Shelley Birkett’s Saturday Preview

Shelley Birkett, 23, is a Flat jockey based with David O’Meara in Yorkshire, who has already ridden 83 winners in her short career, including big-race wins at York (£100,000 Heritage Handicap) and Newmarket (Listed Aphrodite Stakes). She will be giving her expert insight from the saddle, as she casts her eye over the all-weather action.



 Newcastle 13.15 Saturday

The Betway Conditions Stakes (3200m, Class 2)

Newcastle is home to the only mile straight, all-weather track in the world. The racecourse is the fairest track on the all- weather and the best horse usually wins. However, the track represents a stiff three and a half furlong run- in. Consequently you need a horse that can see out the distance really well. This is a Fast Track Qualifier, so the winning horse will automatically be eligible to run at Lingfield on All-Weather Championships Day on Good Friday. This race will be a good indicator of who is likely to make an impact in the marathon division. Being a conditions race, there is no handicap band so any horse with a handicap rating can enter, but they will be weighted accordingly on age and gender. There are only eight runners declared for this race and it could become quite tactical if the pace setter can get their own way in front.

 Leading contenders-

Lord George is unexposed at the trip and being by Derby winner Sir Percy the distance is sure to suit. He ran well but was out-battled by a typically tough Mark Johnston runner last time, when finishing runner up in a hot handicap at Kempton. He is relatively consistent and handles the surface well.

Cohesion cannot be ruled out either after finishing a gallant fourth in the A/W Championships this year off a lofty handicap mark of 105. Now racing off 102, only 1lb above his last winning mark, he could fill the minor placings.

Cape Cova has been highly tried throughout his career and this race is easier than others he has contested. This will be his first run for Mick Appleby, who does very well with new recruits and a revival could be on the cards. He does have stamina doubts, but is definitely worth a check in the market. 

Vital stats-

The only time PJ McDonald has previously ridden Watersmeet, it resulted in a nose victory in a competitive class two handicap at Wolverhampton.

Cosmelli was a prolific five-time winner for Stefano Botti in Italy, but has so far yet to win for his new connections in England.

Jockey in Focus

PJ McDonald

This flat season was a breakthrough one for the 35-year-old Irishman, now living in Leyburn, North Yorkshire. He secured his first ever Group 1 winner aboard Laurens in the Bet365 Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket and with new associations with leading northern trainers Mark Johnston and Karl Burke, he is certainly a name to watch this all-weather season. With the introduction of Newcastle’s Tapeta circuit in 2016, the only all-weather surface in the north of the country, McDonald has made hay and is already on 16 winners this campaign.

Shelley’s pick-

Watersmeet, a seasoned all-weather performer who runs well in this grade, has won eight races and an impressive 47% strike rate on synthetic surfaces. He is proven at this distance finishing second in this years A/W Championships Marathon. He is trained by Mark Johnston, who always enjoys success on the All-Weather, and is a contender to make the pace. He was due to run last Saturday but was unruly in the stalls, so had to be withdrawn, which means he needed to pass a stalls test before running again which he did on Wednesday. He is drawn fairly wide in stall seven, but in a small field it shouldn’t be an issue and there is plenty of time for the jockey to get into position before the bend. He has a really likable profile, already winning at Lingfield, and if he can overcome his stalls issues he should go very close.