Winners were hard to find in the first three races at Newcastle yesterday with the times suggesting conditions were extremely testing. The hope is that the times and surface improve with racing although Art Power impressed in the second division of the 6f Novice event.

Edraak was visually impressive in the 1st division but do note the winning time was 1.6 seconds slower than the one clocked by Art Power. It’s back to the drawing board for Simon & Ed Crisford with Freedom Flyer who refused to enter the stalls on debut – it was not a great initial experience for this well-regarded colt.

Two bumper cards on the all-weather today and we begin our preview back at Newcastle where there is a fascinating Mile Handicap featuring a number of horses who will be hoping to get a run at Royal Ascot in a fortnight’s time in either the Royal Hunt Cup or, more likely, the Silver Hunt Cup one of six extra races added to the meeting this year.

When Roger Varian’s Fifth Position (1.20) beat Space Blues in a Nottingham Novice last spring I thought he would make up into a Group horse but he did not go on as I thought and hoped he would and he makes his all-weather debut today with, arguably, something to prove. Note I will be taking a close look at Varian’s Valyrian Steel in the finale at Newcastle on Monday given his Mutasaamy travelled well but failed to get home when a well backed market leader on Monday. He is considered better than a 78 horse.

Fifth Position – 10/3 with bet365 – was tried over trips ranging from a mile to 11 furlongs last season and ended the campaign finishing eighth in the Cambridgeshire – 1m 1f – when he finished behind Mark Johnston’s Dark Vision who is 3lbs better off today but lacks the headgear that coincided with his improved form towards the end of the season.

Dark Vision was considered a live Guineas contender after landing the Vintage Stakes at Glorious Goodwood as a juvenile, but he has failed to get his head in front in 12 subsequent appearances. He will have his supporters, but I have never been his biggest fan.

The 7f Handicap for 3-year-olds is a cracker and you can put a line through the last run of Amazing News (1.55) who failed to handle the turn into the home straight at Lingfield last time when very well backed to follow up a facile Wolverhampton win. Silvestre De Sousa takes over in the saddle this afternoon and 15/2 with Unibet looks a fair price for George Scott’s gelding who can be a tad keen and likes to race prominently. He gets the each way vote ahead of Sir Michael Stoute’s Jean Baptiste who finished second in his last couple of juvenile starts at this trip at Kempton.

Jim Crowley was at Gosforth Park on Monday but stays down south today and leaves the ride on Mubakker (2.30) to Dane O’Neill who was in the plate when the grey ran out a fluent winner at Kempton back in September. The Stoute colt is unbeaten in two starts on the all-weather, has a good record fresh and, after just four career starts, is open to further improvement. The 7/2 with bet365 on Sunday was too big – he is now a best-priced 9/4 with William Hill – although he lacks the experience of several of today’s seasoned handicappers.

Lockdown would be a fitting winner of the first 2-year-old race of the season for Hugo Palmer although early season juvenile races are not really my bag.

In the finale the Brighton maiden winner Medal Winner was well backed on Sunday afternoon for Archie Watson, but I am convinced today’s trip of 10f is the optimum distance for Cape Cavelli (6.00) and hope to see a bold run from the Crisfords’ four-year-old. The selection is making his all-weather debut today and his ability to handle tapeta must be taken on trust, but his record at a mile-and-a-quarter stands at 212 and at 11/2 with bet365 he is another each way recommendation.

Just the nine races at Kempton and in the 6f Maiden I’m looking forward to seeing the return of Cold Front (3.20) who is the first runner of the campaign for William Haggas. The selection – Evens at Boylesports – was caught close home at Newbury on debut back in October over an extended 6f and todays slight drop back in trip should suit. James Doyle keeps the ride.

City Walk has not been seen since finishing third in a 5f maiden at the Craven Meeting and it will be interesting to see what the market makes of his return. Crisfords’ Perfect Focus is another who shaped with considerable promise when runner up at Newcastle back in October behind an exciting filly from the yard of Karl Burke.

There is a hot Mile Maiden on the card and Her Majesty’s First Receiver was drawn 14 of 14 here when second to a previous winner on his second start. He is likely to get further than a mile in time and he has again been drawn out wide in stall 12 this afternoon.

The once-raced Haggas’ colt Born A King is likely to have his supporters – especially if Cold Front has gone close in the previous race – but I hope to see Imrahor (3.55) go one better than was the case on debut at Newbury. The winner has done little for the form in two subsequent starts, but the third (Hukum) and fourth (Evening Sun) have certainly franked the form and it is worth noting that the selection had the third five lengths back at the Berkshire track. The each way selection is 11/2 at bet365.

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