COULD Munaaser be the horse that takes Sir Michael Stoute, a giant of Flat racing, back to the big time after a couple of lean years by his incomparably high standards?
The former champion trainer certainly hopes so. And so do the Pontefract executive ahead of the first of 16 days of racing this summer at the go-ahead West Yorkshire track.
For, if Munaaser is to justify his entry in the 2014 Epsom Derby – Flat racing’s most prestigious contest – the three-year-old will need to win impressively in today’s 10-furlong High-Rise Maiden Stakes.
But the Derby dream is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Libertarian, when trained by Karl and Elaine Burke near Leyburn, won this contest last year before landing the Dante Stakes at York and then finishing second to Ruler Of The World in the Derby.
Owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum and the mount of Paul Hanagan, Munaaser – sired by the Derby-winning stallion New Approach – had clearly been showing Stoute plenty prior to his racecourse introduction at Yarmouth last September as he was sent off a heavily-supported 6-4 favourite for a seven-furlong maiden.
Like the majority of the stable’s newcomers, Munaaser appeared in need of the experience, but there was plenty to like about the way he came home to pick up minor honours in third, beaten by a little over a length.
The form is watertight with the winner, Oxsana, narrowly held in Listed company a couple of stars later, while the runner-up, Torchlighter, bolted up on his next start and ended the campaign with a mark in the high 80s.
There is little doubt Munaaser will benefit from the step up to a mile-and-a-quarter as Stoute looks to give his colt valuable experience ahead, hopefully, of sterner examinations.
And the horse is in capable hands. Barbados-born Stoute, 68, already has five Derby victories to his name, a run of success than can be traced back to the ill-fated Shergar’s exhilarating win in 1981.
Riding plans for Saturday’s Coral Scottish National at Ayr are in a state of flux after champion trainer-elect Paul Nicholls signalled his intention to run the top weight Tidal Bay.
The popular veteran only made it as far as the eighth fence in the Crabbie’s Grand National at the weekend, unseating Sam Twiston-Davies after being badly hampered by the fall of Golan Way at the Canal Turn, and then hampering front-running Across The Bay after the water jump.
Yet, because of the 13-year-old’s rating which is 19lb superior to his nearest rival on Saturday, only nine other runners feature in the handicap proper.
If Tidal Bay runs, it means horses like the Sue Smith triumvirate of Lackamon, Fill The Power and Herdsman running from out of the handicap on 10st – the minimum mark. The same applies to Tim Easterby’s Trustan Times.
However, the problem is compounded by the fact that intended jockeys, like Ryan Mania and James Reveley, can only do a minimum of 10st 3lb or thereabouts.
They will be hoping that Nicholls saves Tidal Bay for the season-ending bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown on April 26, but he was giving nothing away yesterday.
He said: “He cantered as normal this morning and we’ll make a decision later in the week about whether to let him run at Ayr. It would be nice to get a steer on Sandown as I would probably run him there if the ground was good, but I’m a bit worried about it getting too quick.”
Meanwhile, Donald McCain has confirmed that Across The Bay will return to Aintree for next year’s Crabbie’s Grand National after his luckless run under Middleham rider Henry Brooke.
“I was stood right where it happened and I was thinking, ‘bloody hell Henry, pull him up’. But by the time they got round to the Canal Turn he was back on the heels of the leaders, he obviously got a bit tired towards the end, which is fully understandable,” said McCain.
“It was a magic run, really, and it does make you wonder what might have been.
“Personally, I was never convinced he was a proper Aintree horse, but he proved he was on Saturday and I would imagine next season will be geared around going back in a year’s time.”
Sandy Thomson will resist the urge to run Seeyouatmidnight again this spring following his honourable effort in defeat at Aintree under Ryan Mania.
The Berwickshire-based handler will give the popular six-year-old a break before he returns next term for a novice chasing campaign.
Seeyouatmidnight’s winning sequence over hurdles came to an end in the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle when he was third behind Beat That.
Thomson said: “He was quite buzzed up on the way down so I was delighted with the run.
“It was a huge learning curve for him, but it’s all about the future now.
“You can never say never, but that should be that for the season.
“Perth will probably come too quickly for him and I don’t really want to travel too far again at this stage.
“The plan now is to put him away and go novice chasing.”
Leading Qipco 2000 Guineas contender Kingman is one of a number of Classic hopes featuring in the Aon Greenham Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.
The unbeaten John Gosden-trained colt looked the real deal in two starts as a juvenile and will use this Group Three over seven furlongs as a first staging post before the Newmarket Classic on May 3.