THIRSK opens its doors today for the first time this year and kicks off its 2014 campaign with a bumper eight-race card which supports the 50th anniversary of the Injured Jockeys' Fund.
Fittingly, the programme is bookended by two divisions of the Jack Berry House Handicap, a race named in acknowledgment of the £3 million IJF jockeys' rehabilitation centre currently being built at Old Malton.
The two races are devilishly difficult handicaps to solve, but it would be no real surprise to see Ruth Carr's popular veteran Klynch (2.15), a recent winner, and the Mel Brittain-trained Trade Secret (6.15) both make the most of their favourable stands side draws and add to their previous successes at this venue.
Feature race on the card is the £20,000 New 'Thomas Lord Dine & View Restaurant' Handicap, in which Retirement Plan makes plenty of appeal from Lady Jane Cecil's Newmarket stable.
The mount of Graham Lee, Retirement Plan looked a progressive individual last season, winning the final two of his three starts. He has plenty of scope for further improvement and, provided he's fit enough to do himself justice after his winter break, may well be capable of defying top weight.
In the Donate £5 -Text IJF To 70800 Handicap, it could be worth rowing-in with Blithe Spirit, who showed useful juvenile form and who hails from Eric Alston's in-form Preston stable. Jason Hart, last year's champion apprentice, takes the mount on the three-year-old, who may have most to fear from the similarly well-drawn Eastern Impact.
Baccarat should go well in the £15,000 Michael Foster Conditions Stakes.
Richard Fahey's five-year-old won the Great St Wilfrid Handicap at Ripon last season before finishing a creditable fifth in the Ayr Gold Cup. He is the sort of sprinter who could take a further step forward this year and the nap selection should give Tony Hamilton a good ride.
The Injured Jockeys' Fund 50th Anniversary Handicap has £11,500 in prize money up for grabs and once again Fahey and Hamilton could be involved in the business end with Farlow, who finished an excellent fourth in the Spring Mile at Doncaster's opening meeting.
Fahey, along with his North Yorkshire colleague Kevin Ryan will be conspicuous by their absence from Thirsk. Both trainers will be at Newbury where they will be represented in the £60,000 Aon Greenham Stakes - a traditional stepping-stone to the 2,000 Guineas - with Fahey pinning his hopes on Supplicant, winner of the Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes last season and Ryan saddling Astaire, who pulled-off an outstanding double in the Gimcrack-Middle Park Stakes in his first season.
Both colts are expected to shape well, but this is a hugely competitive race and marginal preference is for Night Of Thunder, winner of both his races last season for Richard Hannon and a horse held in the highest regard. Ryan Moore takes the mount.
In the Dubai Duty Free Stakes, a springboard to the 1,000 Guineas for some high-class filies, Moore teams-up with Fahey aboard Dutch Courage, winner of two of her four races last season.
She is expected to run well, but she will need a career-best performance to put this field to bed and Al Thakira, the mount of Frankie Dettori, holds stronger credentials. She was a decisive winner of the Group 3 Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket last autumn.
Fahey has another fighting chance in the Berry Bros & Rudd Magnum Spring Cup with Gabrial's Kaka, who ran too freely before finishing sixth in the Lincoln at Doncaster. He may be able to turn the tables on David O'Meara's Sweet Lightning, who finished two places ahead of him, but who is now atrociously drawn.
2.15 Klynch, 2.50 Royal Connoisseur, 3.25 Farlow, 4.00 Baccarat (NAP), 4.35 Retirement Plan, 5.10 Blithe Spirit, 5.45 Duke Of Grazeon, 6.15 Trade Secret.
1.20 Mutakayyef, 1.50 Mutashaded, 2.20 Al Thakira, 2.55 Night Of Thunder, 3.30 Gabrial's Kaka, 4.05 Eagle Top, 4.40 Mubtadi.
Today's other meetings: Ayr, Bangor and Wolverhampton.
Tomorrow's meetings: Stratford, Wetherby and Wincanton.