I am writing this Dark Horses Flat Season Guide at the end of a fabulous Cheltenham Festival, and with the start of the flat turf season just two weeks away.
Anticipation is in the air, as the hopes and dreams of trainers and owners will either be confirmed or dashed in the next few months. Classic reputations will be put on the line in the coming weeks. Some will confirm their high expectations, whilst others will fall by the wayside.
The start of a new season means you will see plenty of pundits compile their “ten horses to follow” lists. Here at Race Advisor we like to do the same, but we don’t just give you ten, we go the extra mile and give you twenty.
Our list contains a mixture of Classic & Group contenders, unexposed 3-year-old maidens and handicappers. The majority will be under the radar horses, but they all can win races this year, and they offer us some value betting opportunities in the coming months.
It’s up to you how use the guide.
You can either back them blindly on each of their runs. Or you can take a more selective approach and only back each horse when they get their optimum conditions.
Whatever you do, it’s wise to put all twenty horses into a tracker, so you will be able to keep an eye out for when they are due to run.
Let’s not beat about the bush. We are in the game to make some nice profits from this select group of horses, and to enable you to do the same.
This what I wrote about the Sue Smith trained Midnight Shadow in the Dark Horses Jumps Season 2018:
“The handicapper has put him up 6lb for his Ayr win, but I think he can remain competitive off his new mark. No doubt connections will be itching to send him over fences, but I am hoping he will start off over hurdles, at least in the short term, as there is a decent pot in him over the smaller obstacles. A race like the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham could be an ideal race for this improving 5-year-old. who seems fairly ground versatile…”
He went on to win at 4/1 & 8/1 this winter.
Or another Sue Smith trained horse Joke Dancer:
“He’s yet to race right handed which could be significant…..He enters the new season with plenty of scope for improvement and will surely win races”.
Due to the unseasonably dry winter, Joke Dancer only ran once, but that was a winning one at 100/30
Or the Willie Mullins trained Cilaos Emery:
“He’s won on varying types of going from soft to heavy, to good to yielding, although two of his three career wins have come on good to yielding. He can clearly go well fresh, and is 2 wins from 3 runs when racing 121+ days since his last start. If he does go chasing he would be a contender for the Arkle Novice Chase!
Again, due to the dry ground over in Ireland he was only raced once, but it was a winning one.
There wasn’t enough time to get him to Cheltenham, but I think if he stays sound he will be a high class 2m chaser.
And there were plenty more like that in the last Dark Horses Guide.
What do you get?
Firstly, all the horses contained in this guide were entered our trackers last season. So, you are getting access to our private list of horses to follow. Each of the horses is profiled in detail, with optimum conditions for each horse and any useful stats.
Unlike other guides, you will find horses from top trainers like Charlie Appleby & John Gosden. We make no apologies for this. The top trainers win more than their fair share of the big races, and we want winners!
At the end of this guide, you will also get the bonus of my look at the first two English Classics of the season, the 1,000 Guineas & 2,000 Guineas.
TWENTY TO FOLLOW
Here are the twenty horses you need to keep onside during the 2019 Flat Racing Season.
We will help keep you one step ahead of the bookies.
In truth, we could have put up fifty to follow, but this is our top twenty. The best of the best.
We have split the Dark Horses into two groups. The first group are the older horses 4-year-old +. Some are experienced handicappers, whilst others are much less exposed.
The second group are the three-year-olds.
THE OLDER HORSES
Let’s get started by looking at ten older horses who can pay their way this season.
Auxerre – Charlie Appleby
Unraced at two, the son of Iffraaj only made his racecourse debut in June, and built on the promise of his Newmarket debut when winning at Haydock at 2/5, despite looking green when asked for his effort.
He was even longer odds-on to win under a penalty at Chelmsford, back in September, before making a winning handicap debut at Kempton. The gelding showed a good turn of foot between the final two furlongs that day to win his race. He idled once he hit the front, and allowed the eventual runner-up to get closer than looked likely. All his three wins have come at a mile.
The handicapper has put him up 7lb for that win, but he remains a nice prospect, and could well be better than a handicapper in 2019. He has an entry in the Lincoln Handicap.
Baghdad – Mark Johnston
The son of Frankel made rapid progress last season despite just the three starts. A winner of 1m 4f handicap at York back in May.
Up 10lb for his York victory, the 3-year-old then went to Ascot to take his chance in the King George V Handicap at the Royal Meeting. Always in a prominent position from his wide draw, the colt took the lead two furlongs from home. He bravely held-off the challenge of Corgi in a driving finish.
The handicapper put him up a further 10lb for his Ascot win. Now rated 100, the form of his Royal Ascot win is solid, and there was plenty to like about his attitude at the finish. Both his wins came on good-to-firm going.
He wasn’t seen on the racecourse after Royal Ascot, but if he returns in the same form in 2019, he will surely win more races.
Coeur De Lion – Alan King
The 6-year-old caught my attention on a couple of occasions last season. No wins on the flat in 2018, although he did win on the fibresand in February. He should have won at Newbury in April, but hung slightly to his left coming to the final furlong and had to settle for second.
Wearing the first time cheekpieces, he then finished a neck 2nd of 16 in the Chester Plate, the new consolation race to the Chester Cup. Well fancied for the 2m 4f handicap at Royal Ascot, sent off 11/2, he finished a 4 ¾ length 6th of 19.
The ground would have been plenty quick enough that day, so in the circumstance this was a good effort.
The going was good-to-firm, when he then finished 3rd to Stratum in the first running of the JLT Cup at Newbury a month later. He ended this season well down the field in the Cesarewitch.
He never really got his ground last summer, and he’s on a winnable mark if he gets some juice in the ground. A 1 win from 14 runs, 8 placed on the flat, isn’t a great win strike rate. However, it’s worth noting he’s 1 win from 2 runs and 2 placed when racing 2m+ on good to soft or soft going. He’s on a winnable mark when gets his favoured going.
Elwazir – Owen Burrows
Is another son of Frankel. This 4-year-old won his first two starts last season. A novice at Sandown and Ascot on his handicap debut. Disappointed on his final start of last season, when upped to Group 3 company at Haydock in August.
He looked the sort to do better as 4-year-old. His half sister Speedy Boarding got better with age, and I think he can do the same. Both his wins came over 1m 2f and on good & good-to-firm ground, although he did seem to handle some ease in the ground when runner-up on his racecourse debut as 2-year-old.
He won first time up in 2018 so we know the colt goes well fresh.
I’m sure he will show that his Haydock running was all wrong this year, and could still yet make up into a pattern horse.
Fairy Falcon – Bryan Smart
A 190,000 guineas purchase, and half-sister to the trainers 5f Group 1 winning sprinters Tangerine Tree and Alpha Delphini. This filly was long odds-on to win on her racecourse debut at Ayr last May, but she ran green and probably didn’t appreciate the good to firm going.
She was then off the track until August, when making all to win over 5f at Thirsk on good to soft. The drop back to the minimum trip, and easier going, showed what she was capable of. Stepped-up to Listed company at Ayr on her next start, she was held-up after a slow start. Although never looking like she would win, at least she finished off her race well enough.
From a family that improve with experience, she may not be as good as her half-brothers, but she starts the season off a mark of 88, and is capable of winning when she gets some juice in the ground.
Hey Jonesy – Kevin Ryan
A winner at York as juvenile, he ended his 2-year-old season when 4th in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes.
He didn’t seem to stay 7f in the Free handicap at Newmarket on his seasonal reappearance last season, but then ran well to finish runner-up in a York Listed race at the Dante Meeting. Next up was the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup, where he outran his 40/1 odds to finish a 2 length 5th of 22. He didn’t progress on his next two starts, but ran better in an Ascot Group 3 in October. He built on that when putting up a career best, beaten by just a head by Donjuan Triumphant at Doncaster, on the final day of the flat season.
The 4-year-old has been gelded over the winter and is capable of more progression as a 4-year-old. If the gelding operation has worked the trick, he could make the improvement required to win at Group level this year.
Holmeswood – Michael Dods
I’m not sure a 5-year-old who has had 22 starts, winning four of them, can be categorised as “Dark Horse” but I like him, and more importantly he’s on a winnable mark.
No wins last year for the gelding, but he ran several good races in defeat, including when a close 3rd to El Astronaute in a valuable handicap at the Ebor Festival. Indeed, three of his best four Racing Post Ratings were gained last year.
His last win came in August 2017, at York, off 3lb higher. There is a handicap in the son of Mayson when all the cards fall right. Given that he likes to come from the rear, he’s always going to be hostage to fortune regarding the pace of the race.
He goes well at York, and maybe a big field handicap at that track will see him return to the winner’s enclosure.
Protected Guest – George Margarson
Three wins from eight starts for the 4-year-old in 2018. The son of Helmet’s three wins all came at Yarmouth, over distances from 1m to 1m 3 ½ f. He ran well below par in the hat trick bid at Windsor in October, but the ground was soft that day, his best performances so far have come on quick ground, so he may not have been suited by underfoot conditions.
Despite having had the 10 career runs, he still looks a work in progress, and there should be more to come from the gelding as a four-year-old. After the second of his wins at Yarmouth back in August, his trainer told the Racing Post:
“He’s a genuine horse who just needs to learn his job. He’s stepped up to mile and a quarter, but showed mile speed and they went at a pace, so I think everything fell into place. He’s on the upgrade, and if we could get in the Silver Cambridgeshire, he’s a horse I think would have a great chance, as he ran well in a big field at Ascot in July. He’s still a big baby and a horse for next year, not this year”
Despite having won over 1m 3 ½ f last season, he’s not short of pace and so races like the Royal Hunt Cup or the Cambridgeshire could well be on his agenda this flat season. There certainly should be more races to be won with him.
Rock Eagle – Ralph Beckett
I have a feeling that this one will be on few ‘horses to follow’ lists for the upcoming flat season. The 4-year-old made a winning racecourse debut at Windsor back in April, before finishing runner-up at Salisbury under a penalty. He went back to Windsor and won again.
Making his handicap debut in a Class 2 handicap at ‘Glorious’ Goodwood, he found 1m 2f in this company a little on the short side, but was staying-on nicely to finish 4th of 12.
The son of Teofilo was then given 71-day layoff to strengthen up. He showed the benefit of the break when ending his season with a win in the Old Rowley Cup at Newmarket in October. The step to 1m 4f really suited the gelding. He took the lead just inside the final furlong, and he held-off a sustained challenge by the eventual runner-up all the way to the line. He looks the type to always just do enough, which doesn’t make the handicapper’s life easy.
He could stay further, and after his Newmarket win, trainer Ralph Beckett told the Racing Post:
“He’ll be a nice stayer next year when a race like the Ebor comes to mind”. There should be a valuable prize in him this season”.
The handicapper has only put him up 5lb, so there are more races to be won with him.
Tilghman – William Jarvis
Lastly, in older horse section, we have a 4-year-old maiden. You can question if Holmeswood is deserving of the tag ‘Dark Horse’ but there is no doubting that Tilghman is.
The son of Lawman made a pleasing racecourse debut at Chelmsford in February of last year, before going onto finish 4th of 13 at the Lincoln meeting. He improved further when runner-up in what looked a useful maiden at Newmarket’s Craven meeting. He must have had a training issue, as he hasn’t been seen on the track since last April.
He begins the new season off a mark of 80, which looks lenient on the form he has shown so far. He looks the sort to do well as a 4-year-old, and could develop into a decent mile handicapper this season, if he stays sound. I would be surprised if he didn’t end the season a mid-90s rated horse.
This group needs no introduction. They are the 3-year-olds. Some will be pattern contenders this season, while others will make-up into decent handicappers. The one thing they all share is, they can win races in the upcoming months.
Alfred Boucher – Henry Candy
Shaped well on all three of his maiden runs last season, improving with each run according to Racing Post Ratings. A good fourth on his debut at Nottingham, he improved to finish a ½ length second at Newbury. He ended his juvenile campaign beaten a short head in driving finish by the useful Mohaather, who went onto win the Group 3 Horris Hill Stakes, and is now rated 108.
The gelding is bred to get further than the 6f he ran over last year; indeed, his dam side of the pedigree is full of middle-distance winners. The gelding starts off on a handicap mark of 82, and I will be surprised if his trainer doesn’t place him to good advantage this season at 1m +
Burium – Ralph Beckett
A real under the radar sort. The son of Reliable Man built on the promise of his racecourse debut when finishing 3rd of 9 at Musselburgh in August, He wasn’t the best away that day, and in race where it paid to be handy, he wasn’t suited by the pace of the race. The step up to 1m 1 ½ f at Wolverhampton, on his final start as 2-year-old, suited him. He was only beaten 2 lengths in to 5th, and would have got closer with a clear run inside final furlong.
He goes handicapping off a workable mark of 74, and has been gelded over the winter. He has the scope to leave behind his juvenile form this year, and the potential win a handicap or two at around 1m 2f.
Chablis – Aiden 0’Brien
A very expensive yearling purchase at 1,550,000 guineas. A daughter of Galileo, out of 1m 2f Group 1 winning mare as 3-year-old. The dam has already produced a 1m 4f Group 2 winner in Vadamar, who finished 7th in the 2011 Epsom Derby, and Group 3 winning juvenile The Pentagon.
Chablis made a winning racecourse debut on yielding ground at Gowran Park last October. Always in a nice position, she closed on the leaders between the final two furlongs, before showing a good change of gear to lead entering the final furlong. Her winning margin was only ¾ length, but she was value for a much bigger win, as her jockey gave her a nice easy introduction to racing.
Given that her trainer’s fillies usually improve for their first run, this was a very promising display from the filly who’s bred to be even better over 1m 2f+. It’s early days and we don’t how she has wintered from two to three, but she could well be an Oaks contender this summer!
Constantinople – Aiden O’Brien
The son of Galileo improved with each run as a 2-year-old. He had shaped with promise behind the smart Madhmoon on his racecourse debut at Leopardstown, before running third in a Newmarket maiden that looked decent form. He still looked inexperienced when asked for his effort a furlong from home. He ended last season with a 10-length win in a 1m Thurles maiden. In all truth, he probably didn’t beat much, but you couldn’t fail to be impressed with the manner of his win.
On pedigree he did well to win as a 2-year-old. His full brother Bondi Beach improved as 3-year-old, finishing runner-up in the St Leger, and another sibling, Unicorn, finished 3rd in the 1m 6f Melrose Handicap at York.
If he makes the expected progress from two to three, he could well end up in running in the Derby, or the St Leger, this season. One to note when he runs in one of the Spring Derby Trials. He is a best priced 33/1 for the Epsom Derby.
Craster – Hughie Morrison
A dark horses to follow list wouldn’t really be complete without a Hughie Morrison trained 3-year-old. Craster, the son of Seat The Stars, out of the mare Coquet, a 1m 2f Listed winner at three years old, and subsequent Oaks 6th. A promising racecourse debut at Ffos Las was followed by a good effort to finish 3rd at Bath. The colt ended his 2-year-old campaign when 5th of 14 at Newbury.
His trainer is a dabhand with unexposed three-year-old middle-distance handicappers. He has the look of his trainer’s middle distance handicapper Corgi, who was runner-up in King George V handicap at last year’s Royal Ascot.
Bred for 1m 2f+ as a three-year-old, Craster looks capable of winning a maiden at 1m 2f or 1m 4f this season. His future lays firmly in 1m 4f/1m 6f handicaps, if he makes the progression expected.
Fashion’s Star – Roger Charlton
The daughter of Sea The Stars made her racecourse debut in a Newbury maiden in September. A 400,000€ breeze-up purchase last May.
Given a nice patient ride by jockey Osin Murphy, she was dropped into midpack, before making notable headway just behind the leader coming to the furlong mark. When asked for her effort, she only needed to be encouraged to win comfortably, without her jockey having to use the whip.
A big imposing filly, who should train on to be a very decent 3-year-old. A win at two was a bonus for connections, as she’s bred to be a much better horse over 1m+.
It was good-to-soft at Newbury, and she may be at her best with a bit of ease in the ground, although she does seem a good mover so I wouldn’t be definite about that proposition. Very much one to follow in the coming months.
Kalool – Brian Meehan
A 110.000 guineas yearling. The son of Nathanial is another in the category “of could be anything”. His sire isn’t renowned for having juvenile colts winning on their racecourse debut, just the 4 in the UK & Ireland. Meanwhile, trainer Brian Meehan operates at just a 5% win strike rate with his first time out 2-year-olds.
Kaloor made a winning start to his career when running out an easy winner of a Salisbury mile maiden last October, despite not get the best of passages when making his effort.
After the race the trainer told the Racing Post:
“He’s bred to get further and to mature. He’s definitely an exciting horse for next year”
Bred for 1m 4f he did well to win as a 2-year-old. The way he won at Salisbury suggests he could be pattern race contender this year.
Karnavaal – Sir Michael Stoute
The son of Dubawi looked like a handicap project in the making last year. He built on the promise of his first runs when winning a 7f Chelmsford novice, back in October. A win as a juvenile was a bonus, as he’s bred to get `1m 2f as a three-year-old, and his sire’s progeny often improve for going 1m 2f + in their second seasons.
The colt has been given a handicap mark of 82, which looks more than workable in that he should progress further when going over a longer trip. His shrewd trainer will no doubt have 3-year-old handicap campaign marked out for this one. If he has trained on from two to three, he can win a handicap or two, and maybe even a nice pot before the season is out.
More Than This – Richard Fahey
More Than This went into my tracker as far back as last August. The son of Dutch Art put in one of the best juvenile performance of the ‘Glorious’ Goodwood Festival, in taking the 7f nursery handicap. He came to the race unbeaten after wins at Ayr and Haydock, and was given a prominent ride by jockey Paul Hanagan. He kept his unbeaten run going, and proved far too strong in the finish for his ten rivals.
The son of Dutch Art needed every yard of the 7f there, and can improve further when stepped up to a mile. Or that what I thought. I was looking forward to seeing the colt stepping-up into pattern class company in the autumn. Sadly, he got an injury that keep him off the track for the rest of the season.
The handicapper put him up 10lb to 98 after his Goodwood win. But, if he’s over his injury, he could easily make-up into a Group class horse this year. One who could have slipped under the radar, as he didn’t contest any pattern races at the end of last season. This exciting colt is to note over 1m + this summer. He has yet to race on going worse than good.
Set Piece – Hugo Palmer
More and more trainers are giving their more promising juveniles a run on the all-weather, particularly Newcastle’s tapeta surface. You might remember that John Gosden ran Enable there as a 2-year-old.
Set Piece, a nicely bred son of Dansili, was all the rage to win a Kempton maiden on his racecourse debut back in December. He justified the market support with a decisive win.
He was then sent to Newcastle a month later under a penalty. Despite being slow out of the stalls, he was soon travelling well on the heels of the leaders. The pace wasn’t overly strong, he was always travelling best. He didn’t show an instant acceleration when asked for his effort a furlong out, but the further they went, the more impressive he looked.
He should have learnt more from this run, than from his racecourse debut. He showed a nice attitude to overcome his inexperience when asked to win his race. He looks an exciting prospect for his trainer.
THE ENGLISH CLASSICS 2019
Now, that bonus I promised you at the start.
My take on the English Classics.
Qipco 2000 Guineas Stakes (Group 1) (British Champions Series) (Colts & Fillies)
The Charlie Appleby trained Quorto, who had been one of my fancies for the first colts’ classic, has suffered a soft tissue injury whilst in training in Dubai. This means he will now miss the 2,000 Guineas. That leaves Too Darn Hot as the hot favourite for the race, at a best priced 10/11. Unless you bet on big ante -post prices, I don’t think there is any value in this horse’s price.
The best of last season’s Irish 2-year-olds for me was the Kevin Prendergast trained Madhmoon. The son of Dawn Approach made an excellent racecourse debut when winning at Leopardstown back in August. Always travelling well, he strode past his rivals inside the final furlong to register an impressive win.
He was then stepped-up to Group 2 company back at Leopardstown a month later. The step-up in class wasn’t a problem. He came to challenge the leaders between the final two furlongs, and soon put a couple of lengths between himself and his rivals. The jockey only had to keep the colt up to his work register a decisive win.
He comes into the new season a progressive three-year-old who will surely come over for the 2,000 Guineas.
The other horse I like is the Andre Fabre trained Persian King. The colt improved with each run as juvenile, winning twice at Chantilly before coming over to run in the Group 3 Autumn Stakes at Newmarket. He looked the pick of the paddock before the race, and travelled like a top horse throughout. When he went to the front, a furlong from home, it looked like he would win with some ease but, in the end, he had to battle to hold off the challenge of the runner-up Magna Grecia.
You couldn’t say his stamina ran out, as his jockey had trouble pulling-up the horse after the line, and it looked like he could have gone another mile. He handled the ‘dip’ effectively, which is essential for a future Guineas winner. All Andre Fabre’s previous Guineas winners had run at the course as 2-year-olds, which is encouraging for his supporters.
The son of Kingman could go for the French 2000 Guineas but, given he’s now part-owned by Godolphin, and their runner, Quorto, won’t now run, it seems highly likely he will be coming over to Newmarket again.
I would happily take Persian King & Madhoom at the prices against Too Darn Hot, who would be some horse if he proved quicker than Persian King over a mile.
Odds at the time of writing (mid March):
Persian King – 14/1 @ Paddy Power
12/1 @ William Hill & Coral
Madhoom – 20/1 @ Coral & Paddy Power
Qipco 1000 Guineas Stakes (Group 1) (British Champions Series) (Fillies)
The race has a very open-looking feel about. It’s the middle of March, but it’s 10/1 the field for the first fillies classic. Of course, that could all change if the American filly, Newspaperofrecord, was shipped over. The filly is a real superstar in the making, who demolished her field when winning the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill Downs.
If the Chad Brown filly doesn’t come over. I have to say I am not really enthused by the market leaders, and I could see this year’s 1,000 Guineas going to a filly further down the ante-post betting.
Ralph Beckett has a strong hand of 3-year-old fillies in his care. The two best of them could be Dancing Vega and FelicIiana De Vega, both daughters of one of my favourite stallions Lope De Vega.
Dancing Vega really caught the eye, when making a winning racecourse debut at Doncaster back in October. Always in a good position tracking the pace, she came up alongside the long-time leader a furlong from the home, still travelling powerfully. When asked to go by her jockey, she quickened clear of her rivals in a matter of strides to win by a long looking four lengths. She is capable of more progress in her second season, and looks a high-class filly in the making if she’s wintered as expected. I
would expect her to take a chance in one of next month’s Guineas Trials, either the Fred Darling at Newbury, or the Nell Gwyn at Newmarket, to see if she’s up to Group 1 standard. I like to think she will be!
Dancing Vega – 25/1 @ William Hill & Ladbrokes (Mid March)
There you have it, 20 horses that caught the eye last season, and look set to win plenty of races this flat season.
I hope you found this Dark Horses Flat Season 2019 guide an informative read, and that it will lead you to plenty of winners over coming months.
Here’s wishing you a profitable 2019 flat season!