Alex Hammond: Beach life

Sky Sports racing expert Alex Hammond covers a multitude of subjects in her latest blog including Thistlecrack, the weekend's action and a Melbourne Cup 1-2-3.

Bondi Beach from United Kingdom during a trackwork session at Werribee Racecourse, Australia

Do you think Rivet is capable of challenging for a Classic next season and if he were yours, would he be running in the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket?

Well, he may well be capable of running well in, or winning 'a' Guineas or 'a' Derby, but maybe not 'THE' Guineas or 'THE' Derby. The reason I say that is because of comments made by jockey Andrea Atzeni in an interview on At The Races last week before his Racing Post Trophy win. He explained his reasoning for the colt's disappointing showing in the Dewhurst, which is run on the same course as the Guineas. Atzeni felt he didn't handle the dip on the Rowley Mile as he's quite heavy through the shoulder and that is definitely a worry for him going forward. The chances are, if he didn't handle Newmarket, then Epsom is going to be completely out of the question, but that is the job of trainer William Haggas to decide whether he takes the gamble next spring. I think if I was lucky enough to own him I'd head for the French or Irish Guineas, or maybe the French Derby could be his ideal race. Also, he is unlikely to bump into Churchill or Caravaggio at Chantilly as I don't think he is quite up to their class.

Cheltenham kicked off their season last weekend with the two day Showcase meeting, which horses caught your eye?

Well the meeting got off to the best possible start with the win of El Bandit in the opening race on the opening day, the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle. He has now won five in a row and looks to be crying out for a step up to three miles, with trainer Paul Nicholls saying afterwards that he wouldn't be surprised to see him make up into a World Hurdle contender come March time.

Nicholls was successful in the very next race with another horse to keep an eye on. Marracudja has already run in Grade 1 company over hurdles, but he pulled up in that novice event at Aintree and was put away for the summer. He has now had two runs over fences, winning both and looks like he will make his mark over the bigger obstacles. He could do with settling a bit better as he looks a tad one dimensional as he blazes a trail from the front which won't help his cause in better company, but he's very useful.

On Saturday Sceau Royale was the impressive winner of the Masterson Holdings Hurdle for Alan King and Daryl Jacob. He had a great start to his juvenile hurdling career last season, but didn't cut it at either the Cheltenham or Aintree festivals when King admitted his horses weren't quite right. With another summer on his back and with King in better form, hopefully he can fulfil the promise he showed as a three-year-old. Whether he ends up being good enough to be a contender for the Champion Hurdle remains to be seen, but he can do better I'm sure. He's currently 25/1 with Sky Bet for the Champion.

What did you make of Thistlecrack's chasing debut and is he a valid contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup?

It's not often you watch a horse and know you are seeing something really special, but that happened at Chepstow on Tuesday. Of course, we already knew Thistlecrack was smart as he has hit the dizzy heights over hurdles, but he looked as natural a chaser as you would wish to see on his chasing debut. I was pleased to see him thinking for himself at his obstacles and being equally happy standing off one or fiddling into the bottom of a fence. He looked a real athlete and we could potentially see another novice winning the Gold Cup next March. He's now 5/1 with Sky Bet for the blue riband at the Festival which doesn't have me rushing to back him, but if any of you are dedicated followers of this blog, you may have been brave enough to follow the advice to back him for the Gold Cup before he had been washed down after winning the World Hurdle in March when he was considerably bigger.

Colin Tizzard is in such good form that he got the former Sky Sports News racehorse, On Demand, to win at Wincanton earlier this week. She was having her 20th start and third for Tizzard in the two and three quarter mile handicap hurdle and won really easily. The application of a tongue tie and a step up to that trip helped her cause as did the switch to front running tactics. It just goes to show, that if you ever ask me to help you buy a horse, make sure you are incredibly patient and are looking for a potential staying chaser! I for one was delighted to see her win eventually, as no one likes to think they are a bad judge…

There promises to be some top-class action from Ascot and Wetherby on Saturday, can you point us in the direction of a winner or two?

There are some real old favourites entered for Wetherby's Charlie Hall Chase, which sees the reappearance of Cue Card for the red hot Colin Tizzard stable. He is going to be a short priced favourite (8/11 with Sky Bet at the time of writing) to repeat his win in the race 12 months ago though and not one I'll be backing at that price, although he is the one they all have to beat.

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On the same card I'm looking forward to seeing Saphir Du Rheu get his season under way in the West Yorkshire Hurdle. Since this time last year he's been a frustrating horse to follow having promised so much earlier in his career. However, I'm not writing him off just yet and he's the sort of horse that could come back to his best this season for Paul Nicholls who has started the season with a bang. He's 7/2 with Sky Bet for Saturday's contest.

Another horse that didn't set the world alight last season for the same stable was Southfield Theatre, but he could be the one to be on in Ascot's Sodexo Gold Cup Handicap Chase. He runs off a mark of 147 now and it looks the sort of rating he could win off having run well to be fourth off 150 in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown on his final start of last season. He's 7/1 with Sky Bet.

Yorkist can continue the good start to the campaign for Dan and Harry Skelton in Ascot's Byrne Group Handicap Chase. He's 11/2 at the time of writing with Sky Bet for the extended two mile contest and whilst he has tended to need his first run of the season in the past, I'm hoping the switch to the Skelton yard can see a revival. He's slipped to a mark of 132 which looks very workable and a reproduction of his best form for both his previous trainers should see him involved in the finish. Whilst he has form on proper winter ground, he is effective on this better surface and the way the race should be run on Saturday will suit him.

Godolphin have been enjoying an excellent Spring Carnival in Australia, can they add the Melbourne Cup to their collection?

Well the boys in blue are certainly well represented, with Hartnell the shortest price of their six entries. He's too short for me though for a race as competitive as this despite his good level of form since transferring to John O'Shea in Australia from Mark Johnston. He was well beaten in the race last year, but has gone from strength to strength since, including finishing eight lengths behind Winx in the Cox Plate on Saturday morning; although he was no match for the mighty mare.

Jameka has seen the back of Hartnell in the past, finishing second to him in a Group 1 at Flemington at the beginning of October. Since then she has beaten the Charlie Appleby trained Scottish in the Caulfield Cup and will be bidding to emulate Ethereal who did the Caulfield Cup/Melbourne Cup double back in 2001. This will be her first start beyond a mile and a half.

Almandin is a six-year-old now, but is lightly raced having missed two years with injury and is another with good form since going out to Oz. This is a first try at the highest level, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him run a big race.

This could be Bondi Beach's year. Aidan O'Brien's Leger runner up ran in this race last year and finished a well beaten 16th. However, with another year on his back and a light campaign, it looks like this has been the plan since and I'd expect a better show. He had only run five times in his life before this race last year and with a bit more experience his class should come through.

Big Orange also had a feel of this race 12 months ago when he ran a gallant race to stay on to be fifth at 60/1 from a wide draw (jockey Jamie Spencer also got in hot water for causing interference). Sadly, he won't be that price this time round which is a shame because I think he'll be in the shake up. He is an admirable horse who goes to Flemington with a similar profile to last year, but I feel with the experience of last year's race under his belt, like Bondi Beach, he will do better this time round.

No British-trained horse has ever won the Melbourne Cup, can Michael Bell buck that trend?

Heartbreak City is another to have made the long trip to Australia. Tony Martin's six-year-old is hugely versatile and comes into this having won his last three including a Galway Handicap Hurdle and the Ebor last time out.

Fellow Irish trainer Willie Mullins fancied Max Dynamite to win the race for him last year and he damn near did it with the horse finishing an unlucky runner up (I would say that as I'd backed him). This year he sends Wicklow Brave over for the big race.

The horse caused a bit of an upset when beating Order Of St George in the Irish Leger last time out and taking that form at face value he comes into the race with a great shout.

The race that stops a nation is one of the toughest in the world to win, but here's my crack at the 1-2-3: Bondi Beach, Big Orange, Wicklow Brave….good luck!

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