April Highlights

Saturday 1 April

Doncaster

The first day of the month marks the return of Flat racing to turf in Britain with the traditional first big prize of the new season, the Betway Lincoln staged over the straight 1600m on Town Moor.

The sight of 22 runners hurtling down the track provides both a real spectacle and a reminder of what we have been missing for the last six months. Godolphin took the contest 12 months when the Charlie Appleby-trained Secret Brief struck under William Buick and Newmarket trainers again look to hold a number of the aces for this year’s race, with the Roger Varian-trained Morando and John Gosden’s Sacred Act among the leading fancies.

 

Thursday 6 April

Aintree (6th - 8th)

The £3million Grand National festival meeting is one of the highlights of the Jumps racing season and the crowds will flock to Liverpool for three days of high-quality action.

Thursday’s card kicks off with four Grade One events, the 5000m Betway Bowl Steeple Chase and the 4000m Betway Aintree Hurdle the highlights. Among those under consideration for the latter event are disappointing Champion Hurdle favourite Yanworth, and crowd favourite The New One, second in the race in 2013, winner in 2014, and a faller 12 months ago behind Annie Power.

Friday sees another four Grade One contests, with the 4000m JLT Melling Chase taking centre stage. Don Cossack won two years ago pulling 26 lengths clear of Cue Card, but the race was a very different affair 12 months on when the exceptional Vautour was sent off the 1/5 favourite only to make an uncharacteristic error at the ninth fence and crash out of contention, leaving God’s Own to score for Tom George.

It’s one of the highlights of the sporting year in Britain on Saturday when the £1,000,000 Randox Health Grand National gets underway. The marathon 6900m steeplechase, staged over a course which offers a stern test to horse and rider, is one of the world’s iconic events.

Although the fences and gradients have been adapted in recent years to reduce the risk of injury and support the welfare of horse and rider, they still offer one of the toughest tests in horseracing anywhere in the world.

With last year’s winner Rule The World having been retired and Many Clouds having paid the ultimate price after winning at Cheltenham earlier this year, there will be a new name on the winner’s trophy this year. Among the leading contenders are last year’s runner-up The Last Samurai, and Minella Rocco, second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last week and potentially very favourably treated if he can repeat that level of form.

 

Saturday 8 April

Leopardstown

There’s a fine afternoon of Flat racing action scheduled at Leopardstown with the highlights being the 1000 and 2000 Guineas Trials, as well as the Ballysax Stakes over 2000m. The latter event was dominated by Aidan O’Brien at the start of the century – the Ballydoyle handler winning it with star names such as High Chaparral, Galileo and Yeats – but Jim Bolger took it in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and another trainer with an excellent record is Dermot Weld. Weld won the race 12 months ago with subsequent dual Derby hero Harzand.

 

Friday 14 April

Lingfield

The All-Weather Championships, which began back in October, come to a climax with a fantastic £1 million Finals Day card on Good Friday at Lingfield Park. There are races over various distances, many of which feature the biggest trainers and jockeys, and the meeting is becoming more competitive every year. For the first time this year, two other meetings are being staged on the same day, with another £250,000 All-Weather fixture at Newcastle and a turf meeting at Bath.

 

Tuesday 18 April

Newmarket (18th-20th)

Racing action returns to the home of British horseracing with the Craven meeting, a three-day fixture that signals a full return to action from the biggest stables around and has frequently been used as a springboard for the rest of the season for horses that go on to prove themselves as true champions.

The Bet365 Feilden Stakes is the 1800m Listed highlight on the opening day of action. Subsequent Derby and multiple Group One winner Golden Horn make a successful reappearance in the contest in 2015.

The Lanwades Stud Nell Gwyn Stakes, a Group Three for fillies over 1400m, has been moved to the second day of action. Once a key trial for the QIPCO 1000 Guineas, it hasn’t been won by a subsequent Guineas winner since Speciosa’s success in 2006, but remains a highly-competitive contest. Frankie Dettori has ridden the winner for the past three years. The Bet365 Earl Of Sefton Stakes (Group Three, 1800m) is another big attraction on the card, supported by the Bet365 European Free Handicap (Listed, 1400m).

 Thursday’s card has the Bet365 Craven Stakes as its headline act – the 1600m Group Three event is run over the same course and distance as the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and has long been the most significant of all the trials. The Hannon stable has been the one to follow since the turn of the century with Richard Snr sending out five winners and his son Richard Jnr responsible for the last two victors, but Sir Michael Stoute is the most successful trainer in the history of the race.

 

Friday 21 April

Newbury (21st-22nd)

There are more Classic pointers to be found at Newbury with the JLT Greenham Stakes and the Dubai Duty Free Fred Darling Stakes taking place on the Saturday.

Both races hold Group Three status and are run over 1400m, and a recent roll of honour for the Greenham makes impressive reading. Champion sprinter Muhaarar burst on to the scene with his impressive win here two years ago, while Kingman, Olympic Glory and Frankel have all kicked off their season here in recent seasons.

There is also the Spring Cup, a fiercely-competitive 1600m handicap, and the Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise John Porter Stakes, a Group Three over 2400m, on the supporting card. Sir Michael Stoute has won that last-named race four times in the last 10 years and his representative this season will inevitably be of interest.

 

Saturday 22 April

Ayr

Fans of Jumps racing are catered for too on the same weekend with the two-day Coral Scottish Grand National meeting taking place.

A huge event north of the border, the race was won by Vicente for champion trainer Paul Nicholls 12 months ago and Nicholls has made it clear that he plans to target the meeting again this year, with supporting events such as the Scottish Champion Hurdle offering excellent prize money.

 

Tuesday 25 April

Punchestown (25th-29th)

The last of the big Jumps racing festivals takes place over five days in the countryside to the west of Dublin in Ireland. It’s a week peppered with Grade One races and many of the stars who have lit up the big meetings at Cheltenham and Aintree will be called back to action.

Willie Mullins dominated the big races here in 2015 and 2016, but things haven’t gone as well as usual for the reigning champion trainer this season and Gordon Elliott, Jessica Harrington and Henry De Bromhead will have their sights set on some of the major championship contests.

Among those already confirmed as a likely starter is Gold Cup winner Sizing John, but just as excitingly, the meeting could also see the return to action of some of the horses forced to miss Cheltenham, including the remarkable mare Annie Power.

 

Friday 28 April

Sandown (28th - 29th)

The curtain comes down on the British Jumps racing season as Sandown stages a two-day meeting which caters for Flat and Jumps fans alike. Friday’s card features the Bet365 Gordon Richards Stakes (Group Three, 2000m), the bet365 Mile (Group Two, 1600m) and the Bet365 Classic Trial (Group Two, 2000m).

The bet365 Gold Cup Chase, a Grade Three handicap over 5800m, is one of the most prestigious big-field contests of its type, while the 3200m Grade One bet365 Celebration Chase continues to improve in quality each year and was won last year by the brilliant Sprinter Sacre.

Last year this day of racing played host to the dramatic conclusion to the British trainers’ championship, with Paul Nicholls fighting off a stiff challenge from Willie Mullins. This year it’s Nicky Henderson who Nicholls has most to fear from and it will be fascinating to see whether Henderson plans to run stars such as Altior and Buveir D’Air at this meeting if he needs the extra prize money to shore up his place in the title race.

 

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