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Simon has worked as a racing journalist since 1994 and can be seen regularly on the award-winning Sky Sports’ channel At The Races, presenting live horse racing from the track and the studio. He is widely regarded as the leading expert on All-Weather racing, spearheading the coverage of the annual All-Weather Championships on At The Races. Simon will be contributing weekly articles on his best picks for the all weather action

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Simon Mapletoft – Mid-week selections

Grendisar tops the bill on a great Good Friday

Grendisar, the undisputed star of the third annual All-Weather Championships, tops the bill on Lingfield Park’s £1.1 million Finals Day on Good Friday as he goes in pursuit of the richest prize on sand anywhere in Europe – the Coral Easter Classic.

Marco Botti’s six-year-old has taken his form to a new level this winter, completing back-to-back wins in the Winter Derby Trial before going on to take the Group Three Winter Derby in emphatic style. Those performances make him the stand-out horse in the £200,000 feature and given a trouble-free passage he should prove hard to deny.

I dropped in to Botti’s Prestige Stables in Newmarket the other day to cast an eye over his All-Weather star, who looked in great shape ahead of the big day. An imposing son of Invincible Spirit, Grendisar has been brilliantly handled by Botti this season after appearing to lose his form in the autumn.

Horse Racing - All Weather Championship Finals Day - Lingfield Park Racecourse

Stellar line-up for Mile Crown

The battle for the Mile Crown on Good Friday has attracted a stellar entry, with Mindurownbusiness, Sovereign Debt, Captain Cat and Mister Universe all boasting strong credentials. The former has established himself as the stand-out miler on synthetics this winter, supplementing wins at Lingfield and Chelmsford City with a third success around Wolverhampton in February.

His trainer Roger Varian invited me to call in for a progress report on the five-year-old who will head to Lingfield a fresh horse. He isn’t the biggest but is ideally built for an All-Weather horse and could easily complete some unfinished business in the £150,000 feature after failing to run up to his best in last year’s Final.

He won’t have it all his own way, however. Sovereign Debt – unlucky in last year’s Final – is rated 2lb superior off a top mark of 113 and confirmed himself in good heart when only just coming up short in the Listed Wulfruna Stakes at Wolverhampton earlier this month, a race that his trainer Dandy Nicholls feels will have put him spot on for Friday’s challenge.

Captain Cat mustn’t be under-estimated, either. The winner of the inaugural 2014 Final, Roger Charlton’s classy son of Dylan Thomas is reported by connections to be “better than ever” after bouncing back to form in a Fast Track Qualifier at Kempton, but he might have to be to deny the new kid on the block – Mark Johnston’s impressive Mister Universe, who looked typically tough when edging out Sovereign Debt at Wolverhampton to clinch his place in the Final.

Wraps to come off unexposed Ryan sprinter

Kevin Ryan’s Goken has almost been forgotten since winning a Fast Track Qualifier on his All-Weather debut at Lingfield in November. He has been kept quietly under wraps since spreadeagling a strong field in that Listed contest but puts his reputation on the line in Good Friday’s six-furlong Sprint Final.

Goken was a smart sprinter in France before joining the Thirsk trainer and is entitled to be right up there in the firing line on the evidence of November’s performance, and his official rating of 109. Sharing that is Dean Ivory’s Lancelot Du Lac, who has also been kept fresh since winning his qualifier at Chelmsford City in January.

Lancelot

Dean Ivory, who has a real knack with sprinters, has this strapping gelding in fine fettle for a prize he believes is well within his grasp. Indeed, the Radlett trainer tells me he hopes to win a Group race on turf with the son of Shamardal this year. Much will depend on the draw, of course, but both horses add true quality to a strong renewal.

Watch out for my feature length preview of Good Friday Finals Day on At The Races, which will get its first airing at about 12.15 on Wednesday.

Johnston warms to the greatest show on sand

Considering he didn’t intend having many runners on the All-Weather this winter, Middleham trainer Mark Johnston has certainly warmed to the challenge of clinching a share of the £1.1 million prize money on offer on Finals Day at Lingfield Park on Good Friday.

Johnston told me before the start of the season that only Watersmeet was likely to be targeted at the Championships, but the Scot has assembled an enviable team including the trailblazing grey, who clinched his place in the £200,000 Coral Easter Classic by winning a Fast Track Qualifier at Dundalk.

Watersmeet could be joined by Fire Fighting in the Middle Distance showpiece, while Johnston has strong claims in the Mile with the rapidly improving Mister Universe. He is also set to run the progressive Cape Speed in the 3YO Mile and must have leading claims in the Marathon Final with impressive Chelmsford winner Notarised.

Notarised

David Evans, who still has a chance of pipping Mick Appleby to the trainers’ title, holds the aces with Gracious John in the 3YO Sprint while William Haggas’s South African Grade 2 winner Cold As Ice looks the one to beat in the Fillies and Mares. Gracious John is the highest rated sprinter in the line up but must put a disappointment at Chelmsford behind him. Cold As Ice, meanwhile, looks a genuine pattern performer and should give Past Cosgrave an exciting spin in the opener.

Feilden runner to star on Southwell stage

Julia Feilden’s decision to step Star Of The Stage up in trip at Southwell on Wednesday could see the gelding get his head back in front. He was doing all his best work in the closing stages of a seven-furlong handicap won by the gambled on Red Touch on his Fibresand debut earlier this month and should relish the extra yardage in the 4.10.

Nicely drawn in stall four, he makes more appeal at the likely odds than recent Southwell winner Basingstoke, who looks a better horse over seven on Fibresand and will find this tougher under a 6lb penalty. What’s more, Feilden has done well with her Southwell raiders this winter (five from 20) and Star Of The Stage has been given 1lb back by the handicapper.

Give Surewecan another chance

RACING

Mark Johnston’s Surewecan is dangerously well handicapped and looks worth a second chance in the seven-furlong handicap at Southwell on Wednesday (2.30) after disappointing on his seasonal re-appearance at Lingfield. Competing in Dubai off a 31lb higher mark this time last year, the four-year-old travelled well on the Polytrack before getting slightly out-paced.

He was only beaten a length back in fifth that day but the switch to this slower surface could improve his fortunes, especially if the excellent Joe Fanning can dictate the tempo over some questionable rivals.

Watch out for Simcock Sprinter

Under Siege came back off a winter break to finish a close second at Chelmsford City earlier this month and can go one better in the six-furlong handicap at Kempton Park on Wednesday (8.15). He defied a 9lb rise for an autumn success on the All-Weather and looks competitive here off a mark of 79 with regular pilot Sophie Killoran taking off a useful 7lb.

My Best Bets

SUREWECAN
2.30 Southwell, Wednesday

STAR OF THE STAGE (Nap)
4.10 Southwell, Wednesday

UNDER SIEGE
8.15 Kempton Park, Wednesday