Newcastle hosts the inaugural All-Weather Championships Trials Day fixture on New Year’s Day, featuring six £45,000 open handicaps in each of the All-Weather Championships categories.
The winner of each race will be eligible for free entry to the corresponding Finals Day race at Newcastle, as well as a £30,000 bonus should they go on to win on Good Friday.
Lingfield Park stages the other All-Weather Championships Trials Day on March 1. Any horse that wins at both Trials Day meetings in the same category and goes on to win at Newcastle on Finals Day will be eligible for a total bonus of £75,000.
Exciting prospect Sommelier is set to shoulder top weight in the six-furlong Best Racing Odds Guaranteed At BetMGM Handicap for three-year-olds, in which he will sport the colours of King Power Racing for the first time.
After a debut fourth at Southwell in April, Marco Botti’s charge overcame a 207-day absence to post a near four-length victory in a maiden at Chelmsford on November 2.
The son of Due Diligence impressed again 18 days later as he stretched clear to take a Kempton Park novice by eight and a half lengths, with the handicapper allotting him an initial rating of 96.
Botti said: “Sommelier is a nice horse, although the handicapper has not missed him with a rating of 96! He did it well at Chelmsford from a wide draw and was even more impressive at Kempton – I just wonder what he beat.
“Physically, he is not the biggest horse but everything he does in the mornings suggests that he is open to improvement. For a first run in a handicap, you would prefer it not to be off 96, especially for winning a restricted novice, but I am sure the handicapper has done his maths.
“There are a few other entries with similar profiles, which should make it an interesting race. Carrying top weight is never easy, but we are really pleased with his condition and I think the stiff six furlongs at Newcastle will suit as he was strong through the line at both Chelmsford and Kempton.
“King Power Racing bought into the horse and were kind enough to leave him with us. This is the first horse they have had with us and it is exciting to have the colours in the yard.”
Opposition to Sommelier could include Brave Empire (Roger Varian) and Harvanna (Karl Burke), who have both been absent since scoring twice in novice company during the summer.
In-form four-year-olds To Catch A Thief (William Haggas) and Penzance (Mick Appleby) could test their Easter Classic credentials in the 10-furlong Boost Your Acca-Fenwa With BetUK Handicap. The 17 contenders also include G2 winner Sir Busker (William Knight) and Virgin Bet November Handicap hero Onesmoothoperator (Brian Ellison).
Last season’s Easter Classic hero Notre Belle Bete (Andrew Balding) is one of 27 entries for the BetMGM: It's Showtime Handicap over a mile. Archie Watson is responsible for dual G3 winner Tempus, while Daniel & Claire Kubler could run London Mile Series Final victor Helm Rock.
A host of last-time-out winners are among 20 entries for The Always Gamble Responsibly With BetUK Handicap over six furlongs, including Brewing (William Haggas), Pendleton (Julie Camacho) and Bergerac (Kevin Ryan). Former Sprint champion Summerghand (David O’Meara) and Listed winner Tacarib Bay (Richard Hannon) are also engaged.
The 109-rated Roberto Escobarr headlines 18 entries for the opening BetUK. Home Of The Acca-Fenwa Handicap over an extended two miles, having made a winning start for Mick Appleby in the G3 Italian St Leger. Unexposed stayer Duke Of Oxford (Michael Bell) and Enemy (Ian Williams) could reoppose after finishing first and second in the London Stayers’ Series Final.
William Haggas has a strong hand in the Boost Your Acca At BetMGM Fillies' Handicap over seven furlongs, with Listed winner Mystic Pearl and recent Wolverhampton scorer Nine Tenths heading the 12 possible starters.