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Horse Racing

10 dark horses to follow during the 2023 flat season

With the Classic trials starting at Newmarket this week, the flat season is properly underway. Spring is one of the best seasons when it comes to horse racing with so much hope for those who have a smart one for the summer. While most 10 to follow lists are full of the blindingly obvious, we’ve tried to find 10 who might be a little under the radar.

1 – Ancient Rules (3yo colt) – Charlie Appleby

Seen just once last year as a two-year-old, he was 2nd in a backend Newmarket novice. He was the Godolphin second string that day, beaten by his better fancied stablemate. Both the 4th and 5th have won since to give the form some substance, with the 3rd finishing 2nd in a decent looking Doncaster contest earlier this month.

There is plenty of stamina in his family, his dam a half-sister to a slew of Italian Group 1 winners. It’s a pedigree that suggests that he is going to be a much better performer this season once he is tried over middle distances.

2 – Aspatre (3yo colt) – Peter Chapple-Hyam

Another once-raced maiden who made his debut in an October Newmarket contest. He was nibbled at at big prices that day and shaped with plenty of promise. He did his best work late in the piece having got outpaced before showing greenness under pressure.

5th in the end, the 2nd has won twice since while the 3rd hacked up on handicap debut at Windsor off 72. Just a short head and a head off the 3rd, it gives a good base level for his ability at that point. His dam is from the family of Derby winner Ruler Of The World and Group 1 scorer Duke Of Marmalade. He should make up into a nice type through the summer.

3 – Caph Star (4yo colt) – Roger Varian

Didn’t make his debut until July of his three-year-old season. As such,he is unexposed for his age with just two starts in his career. He won the second of those on the Polytrack at Kempton, no surprise given he is related to plenty of winners on the all-weather. Turf was no concern to him on his debut so there is no reason to think he won’t be just as effective on the grass. He should make up into at least a solid 10f handicapper this season, having already run to a level in the early 90’s.

4 – Climate Friendly (3yo filly) – Jane Chapple-Hyam

Seen just once last year when 9th of 13 runners, she has changed yards over the winter. On the face of things, that was a bit disappointing. She still had a Fillies’ Mile entry at that point so is clearly thought capable of better. She kicks off this season with an Irish Oaks entry to her name. Her Grand-dam is a half-sister to Oaks winner User Friendly so there is plenty to be positive about for 2023.

5 – Eastvan (3yo gelding)- Lucinda Russell

While his trainer is better known as a dual Grand National winning trainer, she is also more than capable with flat horses. Placed on both starts as a two-year-old at Hamilton and Ayr, they came on soft and heavy. He coped fine with those surfaces but his pedigree suggests that he’ll improve for better ground. There should be some solid northern handicaps to be won with him this summer.

6 – Hosanna Power (3yo colt) – Sir Michael Stoute

From a stable who take their time with younger horses, he was a promising 2nd on his autumn debut at Doncaster. The winner that day is rated 92 and had already seen action, beating this colt a length and a half. The 4th, 5th, 9th and 11th have all won since to suggest that form is solid.

A three-quarter brother to Mildenberger, he should do better given more of a stamina test. That sibling was placed multiple times at Group 2 level over two miles, a trip their dam won over. This colt could be one for the likes of the Melrose at York in August.

7 – Mindset (3yo gelding) – Michael Bell

A winner at Beverley last September, he scored that day despite hanging badly. He was value for much more than the official winning margin of a head. The 5th won next time up while the 6th has finished second in a handicap off a mark of 70. He begins this year with an official mark of 80 which looks one he can capitalise on.

8 – Ribla (3yo filly) – John & Thady Gosden

Runner-up on her only racecourse start so far, that came at Newmarket last October. The filly who beat her bolted up in the Nell Gwyn this week which probably means that she is not a dark horse any longer! The 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th in that contest have all won since, most finding their level in handicaps. She may not be a star for the yard but she looks like picking up some minor black type at least.

9 – Royal Jet (3yo colt) – Andrew Balding

Only produced an RPR of 53 on his Ascot debut last year when beaten 12.5 lengths. On that bare form, he would not be the most likely of winners in the short term but he had travelled well before being bumped. Tenderly handled from there, most from his yard take a big step up on their debut runs. That race has looked a solid form guide since. From a family who enjoyed plenty of success in France, he’s a half-brother to a Group 3 and a Listed winner. He should quickly leave that debut run behind.

10 – Zouzanna – Harry & Roger Charlton

Runner-up on both starts in the autumn, one on turf and one on the all-weather. She needs one more run for a handicap mark and that’s where the best of her should be seen. Her half-brother, Win O’Clock, representing the same yard, took off in handicaps after showing promise. He won five times in 2020 going from a mark of 75 to 104 in the process. His half-sister could take a similar trajectory this summer.