Alex Hammond: Having a Crack!

Sky Sports presenter Alex Hammond

Alex Hammond is sticking with Cracksman as the Investec Derby comes under discussion in this week's blog.

Priceless showed a good attitude to win the Temple Stakes on Saturday but can any of those behind reverse the form at Royal Ascot? What else caught your eye at the weekend?

Well, as you know I tipped the runner-up Goldream and I feel pretty unlucky after he blew his race at the start in the Haydock Group Two. Robert Cowell's sprinter had conditions in his favour (fast ground) and had run well on his previous outing and I thought he was primed and ready to run up to his best. However, for reasons known only to himself, the eight year old lost significant ground as the gates opened and struggled to peg back the winner Priceless, getting to within half a length of the Clive Cox trained winner. He's goes straight to Royal Ascot for the race he won in 2015, the King's Stand, and must have a good chance of a bold show once again. It was a good performance from Priceless that goes without saying and she seems to be even better now as a four-year-old, but Cowell's sprinter is a tough hardy campaigner and I don't think we've seen the back of him just yet. He's 16/1 with Sky Bet for next month's sprint and that looks like cracking each-way value to me, despite the race looking red hot. Harry Angel played his part in making Saturday a great day for trainer Clive Cox by smashing the track record in Haydock's Sandy Lane Stakes. The colt was only having his fourth start and made all under Adam Kirby to win the six-furlong contest in a course-record time. The Commonwealth Cup was mentioned as his target after he won the Mill Reef last September and he looks a real machine this season as a three year old. He was a bit too keen on his reappearance this season and whilst he still raced keenly on Saturday, he got the job done and he looks a very exciting prospect for a trainer who does very well with his sprinters. He's 3/1 second favourite for the Commonwealth Cup behind Caravaggio at evens (with Sky Bet) and despite the favourite looking strong on his reappearance, he's short enough for a race that will take some winning and it could be worth taking a chance on this fellow.

Two more Classics for Aidan O'Brien as Churchill and Winter landed their respective Guineas doubles. What does the future hold for both? Will either try a new trip?

There was a rare first for Aidan O'Brien this weekend. Until Winter's victory in the Irish 1000 Guineas, the master trainer had never saddled the same filly to do the English and Irish 1000 Guineas double. Seems incredible when you see what else he has achieved. His dominance of the Classics this season isn't a surprise, but that just shows how high he has set the bar. Winter looked exceptional on Sunday and it now seems, with hindsight, surprising that she was sent off a 9/1 shot for the Newmarket classic; although she wasn't without support. That is perhaps a reflection on the 1000 Guineas favourite Rhododendron's form and the regard in which she is held, but more on that in a moment. As for Winter, I can see no reason why she shouldn't stick to a mile for the time being as she is so effective over the trip, particularly when there are other fillies in the yard with profiles better suited to middle distances. The Coronation Stakes looks at her mercy and her 8/11 ante post price reflects that. She's by the all-conquering stallion, Galileo, so shouldn't be short of stamina for 10 furlongs, although her dam won the Wokingham Handicap over six furlongs, so I'd stick to a mile for the time being. On the other hand I can see Churchill stepping up to a mile and a quarter in future and in fact O'Brien has already highlighted the Irish Champion Stakes as a likely destination for the dual Guineas winner. He seemed to hit a bit of a flat spot in the Irish Guineas which his trainer explained was down to his relaxed nature, but whatever the reason, he looks tailor made for a step up in trip. The downpour at the Curragh wouldn't have been ideal and he had the rain softened ground to contend with there too. That said, there is plenty of time before the Irish Champion in September and all being well we will see him in the St James's Palace Stakes (1 mile) at Royal Ascot next, for which he's 4/6 favourite with Sky Bet ahead of the horse he beat at Newmarket, Barney Roy at 5/2. He's exceptional that's for sure and it's easy to get blasé when you hear his trainer eulogising about his top horses as we've heard it all before, but he's got every right to sing this horse's praises and I'm looking forward to seeing him over a mile, 10 furlongs and even in the paddock!

Mark Johnston says Cracksman must improve to beat Permian again in the Derby. Do you agree, and where is your money going at this stage?

There's no doubt that Dante winner Permian deserves his place in the Derby line up, he's certainly better qualified than some. He is owned by Sheikh Mohammed's son, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, so the £85,000 supplementary entry fee won't have been a problem, and in an open year he goes there with a realistic chance of running into the frame. Whether he wins or not remains to be seen as he's already run 10 times and there don't appear to be any secrets he's concealing. On the other hand, Cracksman has only run twice in his life, and whilst that may not be ideal, there should be more to come from this son of Frankel. I tipped him up as my Derby selection in last week's blog and I haven't changed my mind yet. One of the niggling worries I have in my mind, is if the heavy rain showers continue to hit Epsom. He missed the Dante as his trainer John Gosden didn't want him to have a hard race on soft ground. He won his maiden on debut on good to soft ground, so some ease in the ground at Epsom shouldn't be a hindrance and his dam is a Pivotal mare which would indicate he should handle it. You may wonder why I'm worried about the prospect of a soft (ish) ground Derby if he has won on it before and his pedigree indicates he should handle it, well, he's inexperienced and handling soft ground in his maiden is some way off having to be at his very best on it against top class colts, good ground would do for me! He has the bonus of winning form around the track in the Trial too and I hope he can do the business on Saturday. If the 7/2 about him doesn't fill you with the joys of spring, then maybe the 7/1 available on Eminent is more appealing. I wouldn't put you off backing him if he floats your boat as he has Guineas form (sixth to Churchill) and his trainer Martyn Meade expects him to appreciate the step up in trip.

Rhododendron heads the Oaks market and could well go off odds-on. Are you a backer or a layer?

Well, she's currently even money favourite with Sky Bet and I've had a bet at those odds. So, I've backed her and I certainly wouldn't want to be a layer! I mentioned the fact earlier that, on reflection, it was a surprise to see Winter sent off a 9/1 shot in the 1000 Guineas and that was probably a reflection on the favourite Rhododendron. She didn't get the same run of the race at Newmarket and was gaining on her stablemate at the line. She may not have beaten Winter had the race gone better for her, but it's not too shabby to finishing second to a dual Guineas winner. She's top class and with plenty of stamina in her pedigree she can only improve for the step up to a mile and a half. Her two year old form was superb, culminating with a win in the Fillies' Mile, and she looks the best horse in Friday's classic.

Rhododendron's trainer Aidan O'Brien also saddles the Coronation Cup favourite. What's your take on Friday's race?

He's got the first two in the betting in Breeders' Cup Turf winner Highland Reel (5/4) and last year's Derby 3rd Idaho (7/2) with the shortest priced non-O'Brien runner, Journey, a 9/2 shot for John Gosden and Frankie Dettori. She won her last three starts last season culminating in the British Champions Fillies and Mares at Ascot and makes her seasonal reappearance in this Group One. Charlie Appleby's Eclipse winner Hawkbill is at 8s as is his supplementary entry Frontiersman. Godolphin forked out £25,000 to add the latter to the field despite him being taken out of a race at York last Saturday with a vet's certificate. He won a handicap on his last start, but is bred to be a superstar, being out of Ouija Board and by Dubawi. He is clearly highly regarded and could well improve enough to play his part. It might be worth taking a chance on Journey though, she may be highly strung, but has loads of ability. It's a tricky old race and although she's not straightforward, with her mare's weight allowance she could be worth siding with.

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