Two of world racing’s most famous and prestigious courses, Churchill Downs and Longchamp, will hold their first meetings of 2020 next week as global coronavirus lockdowns start to ease.
While the racing in Kentucky next Saturday will be relatively low-key, Longchamp in Paris will launch the European Flat season on Monday with a high-class card. More than 1,000 entries were received for Monday’s three meetings in France, the first racing in the country since 17 March.
There are 131 declared runners for 10 races at Longchamp, including last year’s French Derby winner, Sottsass, in the Group Two Prix D’Harcourt and former Group One race winner Victor Ludorum in the Group Three Prix De Fontainebleu. There are two more Group Threes – the Prix de Saint-Georges and Prix de la Grotte – on a card offering nearly €500,000 [£429,000] in prize money.
Victor Ludorum was unbeaten in three starts as a juvenile and is odds-on at around 4-6 to confirm the form of last autumn’s Group One win, when Ecrivain (15-2), Helter Skelter (5-1) and Kenway (22-1), who are all among his opponents on Monday, were fourth, fifth and last respectively.
The action in Paris is due to get underway at 9.55am BST, when executives from the BHA’s Resumption of Racing Group will still be considering the implications of Boris Johnson’s speech to the nation on Sunday evening. Optimism that British racing might return in May increased earlier in the week, when a resumption before 1 June was matched at 2-1 on in a market on the Betfair exchange.
Since then the mood has changed, not least after the foreign secretary Dominic Raab told Thursday’s daily media briefing on coronavirus that changes to the lockdown rules are likely to be “modest, small and incremental”. On Friday afternoon, it was odds-on that British racing will not return until June at the earliest.
Hong Kong racing tips, by Chris Cook
For any British punter who imagines Hong Kong racing has no connection to ours, the answer this weekend is Hazapour, a popular choice when Frankie Dettori rode him in the Derby a couple of years ago. Now renamed Amazing One Plus, the chestnut will make his Sha Tin debut on Saturday and looks set to be successful at his new home.
Whether he can do so at the first attempt is open to doubt. He lines up in the Amber Handicap over just seven furlongs, which seems sure to be on the sharp side. That is just one reason why the bookmakers will let you have 16-1 if you fancy him.
At 100-30, Ballistic King (10.10am BST) is a more orthodox selection for the big race on a card that will be screened live on Sky Sports Racing. It was easy to like the way he shoved himself through a gap on his way to victory last time, when the step up to seven furlongs proved a good decision. This race represents another step up the ladder but he looks ready for it.
6.00 Despite some unexposed types, there might not be much depth to this opener and Hard Promise gets a fine chance for his first score in 15 months. He was in good form last year but ended up on a tough mark and struggled for a while. The six-year-old has gradually perked up since dropping back into this grade and was in front 50 yards from the line last time.
6.30 There was no missing the promise in London Luckystar’s run last time, when he powered home from a mile back to finish second. That was easily his best effort since arriving in Hong Kong from John Gosden’s yard, where he raced as Frederickbarbarosa and won on the Tapeta at Newcastle. Antoine Hamelin is an interesting choice of jockey, winning a dirt race on a strong finisher last weekend.
7.00 Those with established form are not terribly compelling in this sprint handicap, which explains why the unraced Iluvataar is at the top of the betting, even if 9-4 does not represent any kind of value. From a stable with a good reputation for producing its debutants in condition to win, he has fared well in four trials here and has João Moreira aboard.
7.30 As Humble Steed is out of a Singspiel mare, it makes sense that he should profit from the step up to a mile that saw him break his duck at Happy Valley last time. Lightly raced, he is still 20lb below the mark from which he started a couple of seasons ago and should have more to offer in this basement grade.
8.00 The draw has not been helpful to Leading Fortune, but at 7-1 it could be worth sticking with this progressive type. The stewards were not universally popular when allowing him to keep his win last month after he carried the runner-up across the track. Still, he made a huge effort to get to the fore and the extra two furlongs here should help.
8.35 Back in 2018, Jade Fortune scored twice on this dirt track and his spell in the wilderness might be about to end after several drops in grade and a long slide down the ratings. From wide stalls, he has been nearest at the finish under Zac Purton in his last couple of starts and the pair can get it right this time from a friendlier berth.
9.05 Apprentice Jerry Chau gets a big chance of a winner on his first day riding in Hong Kong aboard Relentless Me. Twice a winner over further early in the season, he seemed well suited by the six furlongs when scoring on his first run a fortnight ago. Fantasy will be popular as he seeks a hat- trick of wins but a lot went his way last time and he has gone up another half-stone.
9.35 Some really strong sprinting form points to Hong Kong Win here, having been beaten just a head by a subsequent winner when stepped up into this grade in March. The chestnut is drawn closer to the favoured stands’ rail this time and can take advantage.
10.45 The in-form Tony Cruz can train the day’s final winner with the three-year-old All In Mind, who relished the step up to this distance to get his first Hong Kong success in March. His apprentice jockey arguably hit the front a bit soon when All In Mind was stepped up in grade last time but he still put up a fine effort. Back down to Class Three and with Karis Teetan back aboard, he is attractively priced at 12-1.