IN the cathedral city of Ripon, 20 horses will go to post today for the course's most valuable race of the season – the William Hill Great St Wilfrid Stakes (3.30).
As always, the six-furlong sprint is one of the most competitive races of the summer and I'm finding it hard to draw a line though the names of most of the market leaders.
The likes of Baccarat, Spinatrix, Hoof It and Louis The Pious all have strong claims and you can't discount outsiders either, as proved when David O'Meara's Pepper Lane won the race for a second time last year at odds of 20/1.
But down near the bottom of the weights with an attractive mark of 91, David Barron's Pearl Ice makes most appeal at around 10/1 under Westport native Conor Hoban, who makes a flying visit to ride the five-year-old.
I wouldn't describe Pearl Ice as flashy, but there's something very likeable about his enthusiastic style and he bounced back to form at the course last time to take second place in the Armstrong Memorial Handicap over the same distance.
He seems to thrive on Ripon's undulations and won a handicap here over the course and distance off an official rating of 90 last year, although admittedly he later struggled when his mark was raised to the high 90s.
Back at these weights, he should have a big say in proceedings today.
At Chester, the Eric Alston-trained Blithe Spirit can take advantage of her stall one draw in the La Dolcevita Nursery (2.35), priced around 7/1.
Ed Walker's Bushcraft is likely to go off as favourite and while he surely has potential, we can't be certain he'll perform off his newly assigned mark of 88 with just three career races to his name.
The selection was way out of her depth when finishing 13th of 23 runners in the Group Two Queen Mary Stakes at Ascot, but stretching the legs with some better horses won't have done any harm.
She made little impression in a nursery at Thirsk last time, but she's been eased very slightly by the handicapper and jockey Neil Farley's 3lb claim should also aid her cause.
Another one to watch is Ralph Beckett's Weisse Socken, which met trouble in-running and was forced to switch in the final furlong in a nursery at Brighton last time out.
She had to settle for the runner-up spot but I doubt it will be long before we see this one get back to winning ways.
Five minutes later at Newbury, Aiken is likely to prove popular in the betting for the Group Three Geoffrey Freer Stakes. With five wins from nine races, there's no doubt that John Gosden has a very smart horse on his hands, but this will be his first race in 301 days, so fitness is a concern.
Instead, Royal Empire (6/1) gets a tentative vote under Kieren Fallon based on his latest Listed win at this course, where he beat Lady Cecil's Al Waab with quite a bit in hand.
At 16/1, Extrasolar is good value in the 32Red Supports Racing Welfare Handicap over six furlongs at Newmarket (2.55).
A son of Exceed And Excel, the three-year-old ran out an easy winner of a maiden at Brighton back in May and continued his good run of form when beating some decent sorts in a strong handicap at Goodwood in June.
Although never a threat to the winner, he ran a nice race in third last time at Leicester and if you were to sum him up in one word, it would be 'consistent'. The assessor is catching up but it would be no surprise to see him land a place at least.
2.35 Chester: Blithe Spirit
2.40 Newbury: Royal Empire
2.55 Newmarket: Extrasolar (e/w)
3.15 Newbury: Soft Falling Rain
3.30 Ripon: Pearl Ice