MICHAEL DODS is hoping his star sprinter, Mass Rally, will get the new Flat season off to a flying start when he contests the William Hill Cammidge Trophy at Doncaster this afternoon.
A winner of two major handicaps at York last season, Mass Rally steps back up to Listed status on the opening day of the Flat turf campaign as Dods, who is based at Denton, near Piercebridge, looks to improve on last season’s tally of 41 winners.
It will not be an easy task as the departure of some of the stable’s older stars, and the subsequent arrival of a number of new two-year-olds, means Dods is unlikely to be saddling as many runners as usual in the early months of the season.
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However, in the experienced seven-year-old Mass Rally, the County Durham trainer boasts a proven campaigner capable of hitting the ground running.
“He was great for us last season, but he seems to be in even better nick now than he was at the same time last year,” said Dods. “He’s gone up to 107 in the handicap, so Listed races are the obvious places to look.
“He’s a bit of a character, and he needs to be ridden with a fair bit of confidence to enable him to come at the finish off a strong pace. Paul Mulrennan has struck up a decent relationship with him, and the pair seem to know what they want the other one to do.
“Two furlongs out, it’ll look like he’s nowhere. But when Mass Rally’s on one of his good days, he’ll finish so well that few horses can live with him. He’s hard to predict, but when he’s good, he’s very good.”
Dods will be hoping that a number of his new two-year-olds turn out to be equally as successful, although he will be resisting the urge to demand too much too soon from a group of youngsters that should form the bedrock of the stable’s fortunes for the next three or four years.
A number will be ready to run reasonably quickly – Sea Wolf and Buccaneer’s Bolt were identified as especially exciting – but a number will not be seen until their physical development has progressed further towards the end of the season.
“Every stable goes through this kind of progression,” said Dods. “it’s going to be something of a transition year for us, and it’s unusual for us to have so many two-year-olds in the yard.
“It’s exciting, but it demands a degree of patience from everyone because the last thing you want to do with a young horse is ruin them by pushing them too hard when they’re not ready.
“That said, though, they’ve got to run sometime, and a few of them are far enough forward for us to be thinking about running them before the end of next month.”
While a number of older horses have been retired, a number of Dods’ more established stable stars remain, and will once again be targeted as the leading meetings in the north.
Mecca’s Angel burst on to the scene with wins at Haydock and Southwell as a two-year-old, and was only narrowly touched off in a Listed race at York in August.
“We’re hoping she’ll make a decent three-year-old,” said Dods. “She’s a three-year-old rated over 90, so we don’t have a lot of choice with her in terms of races.
“We might start her at Thirsk in their first meeting just to get her started, and we’re hoping she carries on improving. It would be nice if she was good enough to make it to the three-year-old handicap at the big York meeting at the end of the summer.”
Spinatrix matched Mass Rally for most of last season, finishing second in the Great St Wilfrid at Ripon, and picking up a further five top-two finishes during the course of the summer.
“He’s been tremendous and he came on in leaps and bounds last year,” said Dods. “He’s rated 107, the same as Mass Rally now, but he’s more dependent on the ground. He needs some cut in the ground, so we might look at running him in France a bit because of the state of the ground over there and the type of race he’d be able to run in.”
Other horses to watch out for? “We have a few horses – Kiwi Bay and Escape To Glory in particular – where we’d hope they’ve come down far enough in the handicap to make them more competitive. Kommander Kirkup is back from a couple of injury niggles and we’re looking forward to seeing where he goes, and Osteopathic Remedy has won four Ripon Rowels now so you don’t have to be a genius to work out where he’ll be going.”
And if Dods was to have one racing wish this year, what would it be? “I’m tempted to say better prize money because that’s always a problem,” he said. “But I think the biggest positive would be a resolution to the talk about an all-weather track in the North.
“We desperately need one, and Newcastle and Catterick have both submitted an interest. My personal preference would be Catterick, but we definitely need one or the other because that would enable us to run our horses all year round and help safeguard racing jobs right throughout the North.”