Dazzling Dan the standout on tricky Wednesday at Newmarket

The first televised ITV card at the Craven meeting kicks off the Flat season proper for most – the false start that is the Lincoln doesn’t really cut it – but it does look a very tricky set of races to me.

And it isn’t wise to go steaming in at this stage of the season as there is a lot of guesswork about fitness and how forward the stables have their horses.

This is hammered home when looking at the likes of the Free Handicap at 14:25 – a race in which six of the seven runners are making their reappearances and the other, Naval Crown, hasn’t raced since winning at Meydan in February.

No surprise to see Naval Crown as favourite

It is not in the least surprising to see Naval Crown head the betting at around 3.02/1 on the Exchange, especially as a mark of 108 could underestimate him on the bare form of his defeat of stablemate and Guineas outsider Master Of The Seas in Dubai.

And he did mix it pretty well in Group company after winning the Convivial at York last summer.

But I cant get excited by him at the price, especially as Charlie Appleby’s horses haven’t been firing on all cylinders of late (though they had a decent Tuesday), and of course he is ranged against six rivals who all have their positives. Too much of a guessing game to me.

Fascinating contender

The 6f handicap at 13:50 is hardly an easy way to start ITV proceedings, as 9/2 the field on the Exchange underlines.

A few of these do have guaranteed fitness on their side, but the two that interested me most in here were Willie John and Dazzling Dan.

The former is a fascinating contender on his first start for Tom Dascombe, having cost Β£52,000 at the October sales, and over a trip he has never raced before.

He was campaigned between 7f and 1m4f for Roger Varian, but I can definitely see where Dascombe is coming from with the step down in trip, given the way he has travelled in some of his races (notably his fourth over 1m at Goodwood last summer) and a mark of 99 is very workable if his new handler has got him sweetened up and the trip right.

He was 14/1 in a place on the fixed-odds front on Tuesday morning and that would have just about been worth risking, but not quite for me at his current win-only odds.

Sly’s runner could be a massive chance

Dazzling Dan disappointed first time out here last season, and that is a nagging doubt, but Pam Sly has been in excellent form on the jumps (though Eileendover would have disappointed her at Aintree) this season and this horse is thrown in on his best form.

Well perhaps not thrown in, but very well treated. He is down to 90 now from a career-high level of 104.

Prior to that poor run here year (which came off 103), he had an excellent Newmarket record with form figures of 2311, with his sole run on this Rowley course resulting in a win off 95, and if his recent wind op has arrested the 2020 decline then he must have a massive chance here.

Newmarket field mid-shot 1280.jpg

I am only playing to small stakes but he is so well handicapped now that I have to play. And he did finish an excellent head second first time out at Doncaster in 2019, so hopefully last year was just a blip.

Back him at 11.010/1 or bigger on the Exchange, while he is also 10/1 on the Sportsbook for those that want to play there.

The six-runner Earl Of Sefton at 15:00 is a trappy little race and I am surprised to see Global Giant trading at around the even-money mark, for all he was very impressive at Kempton last time.

Tactically it promises to be straight-forward enough with Marie’s Diamond presumably going forward, and if I was a backer of the favourite then I would be very worried about San Donata coming back to his best.

Everyone had this horse marked down as a 6f/7f performer after his Sussex Stakes run but Roger Varian (who didn’t mention him in a Racing Post stable tour on Tuesday) thought different and stepped him up to 1m2f at Ayr, where he saw it out well enough on testing ground when third to Addeybb.

Fresh could be the time to catch him, and on this quicker surface too perhaps, and I would not be laying him at 6/1+ myself, though this is a race that I can let pass without a bet.

Market failing to show enough respect to Sacred?

The same is true of the Nell Gwyn at 15:35, although I think the market is in danger of underestimating the form horse, Sacred, at around 7/1.

Her three narrow defeats in Group 2 company set the standard here and I suppose the layers are fielding against her because she blew out in her final start (in cheek pieces, which have been ditched), she has to prove her stamina, and a first-time tongue-tie obviously hints at a problem with her wind.

All are legitimate concerns but she is a fast ground winner and her dam won over 1m4f in the French provinces (from just the two starts), and it is too early to say she won’t last home, for all she was outbattled over 6f at York after hitting 1.15 in the run.

In fact, her ability to clutch defeat from the jaws of victory is another potential issue, as she traded at 1.04, 1.12 and 1.15 last year and was chinned in all three.

Back my old mate at Cheltenham

There are a couple of decent Cheltenham handicaps on ITV, though only one is getting my cash, and I can’t resist a bet on my old mate Romain De Senam at 7.06/1 or bigger. That looks a point or two too big to me in the 14:05.

Although he went up 10lb for his Musselburgh win on New Year’s Day, I still think he is fairly handicapped – the second in that race ran well in defeat next time – but the betting angle with him is the step down in trip after his fourth to Clondaw Castle over 3m at Kempton last time (when he was a big drifter).

I think he does just about stay 3m but he is more effective over this 2m4f trip and decent ground is another big plus for him.

His Cheltenham record over fences isn’t great, although he has two fair runs in valuable big-field handicaps at the track, but I like the fact this is a small field, and he has his ideal conditions. I do fear Benatar, even though he is 3lb out of the handicap.