May is rarely a vintage month for Jumping enthusiasts, as the Flat season accelerates, and the mercury rises. This year, with the change in seasons all topsy turvy, it's been yet harder to focus on a Flat season which demands frilly dresses, the latest fashions and glimmering horses as both humans and horses enjoy the warmth of the sun on their backs.
All that is set to change however, as the pace of the Flat season steps up a gear. A little over a month ago, we witnessed the participants at the Grand National at Aintree and earlier this month, the Guineas at Newmarket. Now, the Epsom Derby Festival and Royal Ascot are but weeks away, each a staging post in the development of reputations and the recognition of champions.
Next month, we have two significant and striking festivals. The Epsom Derby includes the Derby and the Oaks, acknowledged championships for 3 year olds of each gender. These two British Classics both cover the same distance of one mile, four furlongs. And their return will be all ther sweeter for their enforced cancellation last summer. Among current riders, the leading jockey for both races is Frankie Dettori, with 2 Derbys and 4 Oaks, the most recent on Anapurna in 2019. Ryan Moore also has two Derbys to his name.
The Derby has not been the world's richest race for some time, but what it lacks in prize money, it makes up in spades in heritage, breeding value and prestige. Every owner, trainer, rider - even stable lad - wants a Derby memento to accompany the winner's cheque. It's a career-defining moment to win the race.
Aidan O'Brien knows all about Derby success, having eight victories, many from the extraordinary Northern Dancer line that spawned Galileo, his first winner, Sadler's Wells, and Montjeu, all prolific sires of winners for Coolmore.
Royal Ascot is one of the most uplifting events of the Flat season. There isn't any event in the UK that can level with the class, glamour, and pageantry of this five days, even if this year's event has a very limited crowd capacity. You can check the previews for the fifth day of the Royal Ascot and videos online. They include all the actions that took place during the five days of the last renewal in 2019.
Trainers around Wiltshire and the Cotswolds have enjoyed plenty of success at Ascot over the years. In fact, before I move on to three horses to look out for, there are some other trends to pick up on.
Jumping trainers are to be especially respected in the two long distance races other than the Gold Cup, although Alan King has entered Rainbow Dreamer in that race this year.
In the 9 runnings since 2010, so-called Jumps trainers have plundered the Ascot Handicap, among them the globe-trotting Willie Mullins in 2012 (Simenon), 2015 (Clondaw Warrior), 2017 (Thomas Hobson), and 2018 Lagostovegas). Nicky Henderson got in on the act with Veiled in 2011, David Pipe the previous year with Junior, and Jonjo O'Neill with Well Shatrp in 2013.
The other long distance race is the Queen Alexandra over 2m 6f, where Jumpers have won 50% of the renewals since 2010. The disgraced Gordon Elliott with two of these in 2016 and 2018. It's always worth looking for a handicapper with solid form under both codes.
Indigo Girl has emerged as one of the favourites for the Cazoo Oaks. After winning her maiden last August at Yarmouth, she progressed to win the Gp II May Hill Stakes at the Doncaster St Leger meeting. She concluded her season in the Gp I Fillies Mile at Newmarket in October, where she ran on to take second behind Pretty Gorgeous, half a length back.
She'sentered in the Oaks, Coronation Stakes at Ascot and the Irish Oaks too so clearly the Gosden team think a lot of her.
In the 2000 Guineas, Lucky Vega ran third at a generous 12-1. Given the distances of a short head and a neck, he could likely reverse form with winner Poetic Flare and runner-up Master Of The Seas. Trainer Jessica Harrington knows what's required to win at the highest level under both disciplines of the sport. Both Poetic Flare and Lucky Vega were pushed out by another Bolger horse Mac Swiney in the Irish 2000 Guineas, but the reality of both races is that the winniung distances were infinitesimally small. There's a big race waiting for Lucky Vega.
Epsom will be a fifth start for In Swoop, which have included the runner-up berth in the Arc and a German Derby at Hamburg last July. Any doubts that he'd train on have been dispelled by two compelling performances at Longchamp this Spring, the most recent a 1 1/4l victory in the Gp III Prix Hedouville 10 days ago. He has entries for the Coronation Cup at Epsom and the Prince of Wales Stakes at Ascot for his French trainer, Francis-Henri Graffard.
Meantime, the good news for jumping fans is that Stratford's Hunters' evening on Friday features the richest card of hunter chases anywhere in the UK, and the entry of over 100 for the seven races augurs for a promising evening when we can celebrate some champions of our own. First race is 5.40.