Spring is very much here and with that is the hotly anticipated start of the Flat season, with the Lincoln meeting getting the action under way on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Racing.
With a whole host of Classic contenders, returning star jockeys as well as one set for a final hurrah, and plenty of up-and-coming riders and trainers, the 2023 campaign could one of the most exciting in recent times.
Frankie’s final season
Never a man to shun the limelight, Frankie Dettori’s stunning pre-Christmas decision to make the 2023 season his last means that after over 35 years in the saddle, the legendary rider is set for something of a farewell tour in the next seven months or so.
Dettori has already ridden in his final Dubai World Cup night, but it’ll be closer to home, particularly at Ascot where he has thrived over the years, that he will be most fondly remembered thanks to his Magnificent Seven back in 1996.
He’s set to ride for the final time in the UK on Qipco British Champions Day, before heading over to the Breeders’ Cup in Santa Anita for a final farewell, both live on Sky Sports Racing.
The 52-year-old has almost won everything there is to win in the sport of kings – his solitary Group One in the UK still needing to be ticked off is the July Cup at Newmarket. Surely it’ll happen, right?
Chaldean would look a notable chance of Classic success for Dettori at this stage in the 2000 Guineas having won the Dewhurst Stakes last season, but no doubt John & Thady Gosden will have a bullet or two to fire as the season progresses.
Oisin’s back after lengthy ban
A controversial 2021 campaign for Oisin Murphy resulted in a third Champion Jockey title after a titanic tussle with rival and subsequent champion William Buick.
However, shortly after he was hit with a 14-month ban for breaching Covid-19 rules and found to be over the alcohol limit on two separate occasions.
The star rider returned to the saddle in February with a winning comeback at Chelmsford, but must undergo regular tests to ensure he remains sober and avoids drugs to continue to hold a licence.
He’s showed no signs of rustiness on the all-weather from the rides he has picked up, so expect a big season from Murphy and a possible run at a fourth Champion Jockey crown in five years – he’s as short as 11/8 to pull off that feat.
More Ballydoyle and Godolphin domination?
The ante-post markets for the Classics and other stand-out Group One races will probably tell you all you need to know as the yards of Aidan O’Brien and Charlie Appleby dominate proceedings yet again.
Two-year-old stars Auguste Rodin and Little Big Bear are already standout favourites for the Ballydoyle team in both the 2000 Guineas and Derby markets, with Statuette and Meditate having similar reputations in the fillies’ equivalent.
It’s a statement in itself that O’Brien is as short as 7/4 to win the UK Flat Trainers’ Championship alongside Charlie Appleby. Can anyone stop them?
Well, Tahiyra (5/2 – 1000 Guineas) is the most likely to do so, having put in a breathtaking performance to defeat Meditate in the Moyglare Stud Stakes for Dermot Weld back in September – if she’s trained on, she’ll take some stopping.
Chaldean, Nostrum and Lezoo are a trio who will no doubt need considering, alongside a host of unexposed three-year-olds who will reappear in the next month or so.
Loughnane, Davies and De La Sayette to shine
The returning Oisin Murphy, the retiring Frankie Dettori and the outstanding defending champion William Buick look set to take a fair portion of the headlines, but there’s plenty of exciting youngsters who will surely thrive in 2023.
Last year’s apprentice title battle went down to the wire with Benoit De La Sayette edging out Harry Davies, but the duo both impressed and will no doubt continue to thrive with plenty of backing from heavyweight trainers.
The breakout star of the all-weather campaign has to be Billy Loughnane, who has already ridden 40 winners even with a spell in the USA helping to develop his already obvious skills in the saddle.
With plenty of support from father Mark as well as attracting some big-name stables throughout the winter, he’s sure to be one to watch in his maiden turf campaign.
A few to follow…
All the rage in the ante-post Derby markets since a very positive report from trainer Aidan O’Brien at the Ballydoyle press day, Alexandroupolis is now second-favourite for the Epsom Classic despite having just one run to date.
That was an impressive winning debut when relatively unfancied on debut at Galway for the son of Camelot back in September and is clearly highly thought of at Ballydoyle.
The acid test could come as soon as Sunday, having been given an entry in the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown, very much an early trial for the Epsom Derby.
If he comes through that with flying colours, expect his price to tumble.
The Irish Derby hero has already been seen this season and looks set to be primed for a potential run at the middle-distance Group One races throughout the campaign.
An unlucky third in the Derby last year was followed up by victory in the Curragh equivalent, but was subsequently a disappointment in the King George when favourite and again on very testing ground in the Arc.
But Ralph Beckett’s four-year-old looked to be back to his best when second in the Dubai Sheema Classic behind the Japanese superstar Equinox last month in Meydan.
He’ll no doubt be built up for a big run in both the Coronation Cup and the King George, with a potential Royal Ascot run as well.
Autumn maidens at Newmarket often throw up a Classic contender, and Dubawi colt Imperial Emperor could be just that after a stunning start last October.
With only six runners, it’s hard to know exactly what the form is worth but the style he did it was striking under William Buick.
He currently doesn’t have a Derby entry so it could be that he’s a late developer and will progress throughout the season, but will definitely need a second look when he reappears in the coming months.
Could he be the best of the Appleby three-year-olds this time around?
Royal Ascot will be incredibly poignant this year, following the passing of The Queen who has been synonymous with the five-day flat extravaganza over the last 70 years.
King Charles III and The Queen Consort have kept the Royal silks, and look to potentially have an exciting three-year-old who could line up in The Derby or at the Royal meeting in Slipofthepen.
A dominant winner of a Kempton novice on debut, the John & Thady Gosden duo will no doubt be eyeing up a Derby trial – he also has a 2000 Guineas entry but you wonder if that might come too soon for the Night Of Thunder three-year-old colt.