Our Catching Pigeons column returns with all the gossip and best bets ahead of a big weekend of action in the UK and Ireland.

Flymetothestars has all the hallmarks of a good old-fashioned Sir Mark Prescott plot and is expected to take plenty of beating in the Stobart Rail Northumberland Plate, the big-money highlight of a busy British racing programme on Saturday.

This race has been in the master trainer’s mind for some time and an experimental trip to this track proved an unbridled success last month – the four-year-old scored with ease and rose sufficiently in the weights to be guaranteed a run in this lucrative contest.

Prescott’s operation is run with military secrecy, but the limited whispers to emerge suggest that optimism is high in the camp. He’s short enough in the betting, but could go off even shorter if a nationwide punt emerges in the style of the good old days.

Those looking for a saver at much bigger odds are recommended Champagne Champ, a very useful stayer on his day, who could surprise some of the better-fancied rivals.

Rod Millman has very happy memories of this famous old race having won it with the popular stayer Sergeant Cecil 12 years ago, and he will be hoping he can at least bag a place with his latest aspirant, who has just sneaked into the line-up with a handy mark.

Although he was soundly beaten by Flymetothestars in the aforementioned trial for this back in May, he enjoys a very healthy pull at the weights and is more than five times the price of his old rival.

Millman has also decided to fit cheekpieces for the first time in a bid to sharpen him up further, and, given the fact that he likes to be up with the pace, Champagne Champ is likely to miss all the traffic problems, which almost inevitably will arise from a very competitive 20-runner handicap.

The versatile London Prize has come a long way since winning a lowly summer bumper at Worcester on his debut and looks the one to beat in the Northumberland Vase Handicap, the consolation event for the Plate.

Ian Williams has done well with the six year old since taking charge of the gelding from John Ferguson, and would have liked a crack at the Plate after the son of Teofilo’s demolition job on a field of stayers at Goodwood on his return to the level from a very successful hurdling campaign 20 days ago.

Penalised just 5lb for his eight-length success, he should be capable of following up even though the opposition this time around is a little stiffer.

With Hugo Palmer’s team suddenly back flying again, Koropick is worth a small bet to beat his elders in the Betfred TV Chipchase Stakes.

Palmer could hardly hit a barn door for the first couple of months of the campaign, but is motoring again now and coming back to sprinting with Koropick looks the way forward.

It may pay to take a chance with Amourice in the Listed Betway Empress Fillies Stakesat Newmarket.

Jane Chapple-Hyam chose a pretty tough first examination for the daughter of Authorized in a hot novice event over this course and distance three weeks ago, and she belied her 150/1 starting price with a very good fourth to highly rated colts Glorious Journey and Grand Koonta.

The form has been given a considerable boost by the third home, the filly Take Me With You, who finished a very good third from a bad draw  in the Group Three Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot, and the fifth Maksab, who won a novice at Leicester earlier this week.

Amourice will have learned plenty from that experience and should be well at home on this easier ground.

Winning Ways found the ground too quick when down the field in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot last week and is expected to step up on the performance in less demanding conditions in the Group Three Betway Criterion Stakes.

The only three year old in the field, he boasts some solid form, and gets a handy 8lb from his older rivals.

His trainer Jeremy Noseda has an interesting two-year-old to look out for at Windsor too in the shape of the US-bred Perfect Hustler. He’s shaped nicely in his homework, although will probably need the experience first time out.

Gallifrey can overcome her relative lack of experience and win the Betway Fillies Handicap.

Lucy Wadham is better known as a jumps trainer but does very well with her small team on the flat and Gallifrey has already underlined the point with a win on her second of only two outings as a juvenile.

Her comeback effort, when second to the progressive Titi Makfi at Sandown 23 days ago, suggested there was plenty to come from this daughter of Sir Percy and the form has been given a significant boost with the winner, third and fourth all recording victories since.

The step up here from nine furlongs to a mile-and-a-half should also suit.

Italian Heiress has shown enough on her two outings so far this season to suggest a big run is in the offing in the Betway Handicap. Clive Cox believes the three-year-old should improve as the season progresses and both the ten furlong trip and the easy ground will be appreciated.

Pavillon, a stablemate of Italian Heiress, has won two of her three starts on the all-weather and is fancied to make a winning turf debut in the Betway EBF Stallions Fillies’ Handicap.

She produced a below-par effort on her return to Wolverhampton last time but is better than that performance suggests and connections are more than hopeful she can hold her own at this higher level.

At the odds, Temple Church could be a value bet to beat the well fancied Defoe in the Sunbets.co.uk Handicap at York.

Hughie Morrison’s highly regarded three-year-old beat the smart Raheen House at Newbury in September but has been a tad disappointing so far this season.

His performances in Listed events in France have not been helped by his tendency to be a little too keen to get on with things, but this first appearance in a very competitive handicap could be set up to suit him.

If he can find his best form, he should run a big race at a decent price.

Defoe won’t be easy to beat, especially if any further rain arrives, having bypassed Royal Ascot to wait for this, but the word seems to be out about his talents given the state of the betting market.

Connections from the Fred Archer Racing syndicate enjoyed another memorable day at Royal Ascot last week thanks to the redoudtable The Tin Man.

Seven days on, the delights of Donny might be a little less obvious but the same silks should again be in the winner’s enclosure courtesy of the well-regarded Ptarmigan Ridge in the Reg Gilks Memorial Maiden Stakes.

Further afield, Waldgeist can add further weight to the argument that the Prix du Jockey-Club is stronger form than the Investec Derby by beating Epsom hero Wings Of Eagles and the third Cracksman in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh.

The three horses dominate the market, but Waldgeist may be the most progressive of the trio after his narrow defeat to the brilliant Brametot at Chantilly a month ago.

Andre Fabre’s colt was beaten only the same distance by his conqueror as stablemate Le Brivido in the French 2000 Guianeas at Deauville the previous month, and he underlined the strength on the French form with a comfortable win in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot last week.

The step up to a mile-and-a-half should hold no terrors for the stoutly bred son of Galileo and the pigeons from across the Channel report that he has been working very nicely.

Fact Of The Matter is a young stayer on an upward curve and looks nicely weighted for the Marston’s Pedigree Summer Cup Handicap Chase at Uttoxeter on Sunday.

Jamie Snowden’s charge is a consistent performer and ended last season with a decisive win in a novice chase at Cheltenham before another respectable effort at Aintree last month.

He is weighted to confirm the form with Southfield Vic and will enjoy the good ground.


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