Cheltenham time is just around the corner and the buzz is building with each passing day as the finest jump horses prepare for their biggest festival of the year. Although Kevin and his team will surely be watching and enjoying every day of the meeting, there is also a second reason to be excited. It is the same each year, once Cheltenham is out of the way then the flat is here. The long winter months are slowly becoming a distant memory and the calendar keeps ticking off the days until the 2018 turf season is upon us. Everyone knows that it does take a few weeks for the season to really wind up but already Kevin is beginning to suss out just what lies ahead for his team, which again will be starting 120 strong.
The all-weather scene has really improved o ver the last five years, with plenty more quality races on offer, culminating now in a championship day. Unfortunately Kevin doesn’t really have many horses to suit this but he has utilised the all-weather early in the year to get some much needed runs into inexperienced horses. This all leads to the feeling that come the flat season the horses will be ready to fire on all cylinders. So let’s have a look at what could be in store for some of the team for the year ahead.
There is only one place to start and that is with last season’s star BRANDO, the Group 1 winner is back to tackle the top sprints. His fantastic win in the Prix Maurice De Gheest was his second win of the year, following the Group 3 Abernant. Throw in a third placed effort in the July Cup and you can see it was a great year for the chestnut and his performance in France was certainly on that provided a great thrill along with some emotional celebrations. Unfortunately his season did drop off at the tail end, with three below par efforts although there were reasonable excuses for these. He has wintered great and also had a little wind op, which Kevin felt may have been a contributing factor to his final three efforts not being up to scratch. Yes he is another year older, now 6yrs old, but he has very little miles on the clock. Last year was his first full season at Group 1 level so he would certainly have learnt from it and is now a regular figure rather than the unknown. Brando is currently is full preparations for a trip to Dubai having been invited to race on Work Cup night, with the 6f Al Quoz Sprint being the chosen race. It would be great to get hime out there for his return although Kevin is not saying it is a certain trip. He will need to prove to be 100% ready before travelling and the decision will be made as late as possible. Hopefully this will be his starting point and from there his season will pretty much be the same as last year. All the top Group 1 sprints will be in his diary and we will be especially looking forward to seeing him defend his crown in Deauville.
Last season provided a very pleasing surprise as HEY JONESY proved to be one of the best juveniles in training, finishing the season rated 110. The Excelberation colt took some time to find his feet but suddenly began to show some huge potential. Just a few weeks before his debut, Jonesy did some work that showed his true ability. He carried this forward to finish a close second on his first run. Then he went one better when running away with a novice event at York, really putting down a marker for future events. He really did look capable of group success but instead Kevin went for one of the biggest pots available, taking in the DBS sales race. Jonesy finished third and arguably it was one of the most unlucky performances of the year as he raced alone down the stands side, with a massive draw bias against him. Jonesy was certainly the one everybody took out of the race but his next start was the real acid test. Missing a couple of entries in group level races, Hey Jonesy lined up at the top level when competing in the Group 1 Middle Park. He ran a huge race, making most of the running before finishing a very good fourth place. Racing a little free probably cost him being there at the finish but it was a huge effort and confirmed he was a serious horse. Although he was one the top sprinting juveniles, Hey Jonesy has never looked like a sprinter with his frame and pedigree suggesting further would suit. Kevin is excited about trying him over further and so Jonesy will be given a Guineas trial as his first assignment of the year. The 7f Greenham at Newbury could be the ideal race and win or lose it will tell us where he is going this season. If he stays then a classic tilt at the Guineas (he’s entered in the Irish Guineas) will be his target. If he doesn’t stay then a sprinting future will beckon and the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot would be a natural plan. Either way he is a really exciting prospect and we cannot wait to get him back in action.
It’s been a case of patience with TERUNTUM STAR who finally put all his niggles behind him to record a couple of top performances. The chestnut has always been a talented individual but small issues had prevented a clean run with him, meaning getting him 100% was always a struggle. When he was right he was good but that was few and far between. The good effect of this was that he didn’t and doesn’t have many miles on the clock so improvement can still come even as he is a 6yr old now. Last season Kevin was relieved to get a real crack at it with Teruntum and it certainly allowed him to shine. After 9 months off the track, Teruntum returned to action with a couple of really pleasing runs. He made improvements from first to second and gave the impression he was close, close to being back to his best. Ripon gave him the chance to show this on his next start and Teruntum took the race by the scruff of the neck. Racing prominently he scooted clear and then repelled a late flourish to record his first win in over 15 months. Better was to come as he was even more impressive at York next time out, winning the Coral sprint in emphatic fashion. This time he quickened up and nothing could get near him, running out an easy 1 3/4 length winner over a good quality field. He rounded off the season with a good effort in the listed Wentworth Stakes. It was his first foray at this level and he did well, maybe just finding the ground a bit too testing on the day. This year it’ll be all about the top sprint handicaps for Teruntum. He has a high cruising speed and can quicken up off that which means the big field races suit him. There are plenty of races throughout the year but the Wokingham Handicap at Royal Ascot would certainly be one of his first big targets. With a rating of 104 any victory this season may see him taking a crack at group level also but the handicaps nowadays require that type of class to win.
Kevin has an exceptional record in the Group 3 Abernant stakes at Newmarket and this year he may well send TOMMY TAYLOR to improve on his 3 winners in the last 4 years (2016 was the one missing but didn’t have a runner). Tommy was a bit of a surprise in pre season as he had looked likely to want 7f or a mile. Once he started working it was obvious that he was sprinter and potentially a high quality one at that. There is a great programme of handicaps for 3yr old sprinters and Tommy returned to action at the Craven meeting. It was his first attempt at the trip and, along with the track, it did take him a while to learn. Once he was balanced he stayed on powerfully to finish a solid third. This experience did him the world of good and on his next start, at the July track, Tommy looked like the winner all bar the line. Having come through to lead he was nabbed right on the line, it was a unfair way to lose but he had again showed plenty in defeat. He would line up in two more similar events, again down at Newmarket July, and due to the promise shown he would be sent off favourite. Unfortunately things really didn’t go his way and Tommy failed to lad a blow. Undeterred Kevin decided to let him have a crack at Listed level on his next start at York in the Garrowby Stakes. This time he was close up all the way, travelling on the outer and away from any potential danger. Moving well throughout the race he came through with a challenge and swiftly took the lead. From there he had to show bravery in the final 1/2 furlong as he repelled a strong challenge form the favourite. It was a top performance and showed Tommy in his best light. Unfortunately his final start was below par but that doesn’t truly reflect on Tommy. Now gelded and rated 107 he looks likely to take a shot at the top handicaps but could also mix in some group races. He likes Newmarket so the Abernant could be the ideal starting point. The Wokingham and Ayr Gold Cup would more than likely be his main targets but Tommy certainly does give the impression there is a big one in him and could potentially be a group level performer in the near future.
BRILLIANT VANGUARD came of age last season, racking up a hat-trick of wins and going up a stone in the weights. Consistency is definitely something that he had lacked in his career but then the penny really dropped. He has always managed to get his head in front but this would be followed by a string of weaker efforts. It was frustrating because he always looked capable of better but just wouldn’t do it. Ascot was the first sign of him really improving and he should have won that day. He probably went a little too soon and was caught in the last 50yards. That was backed up by a decent effort in a tactical affair which really didn’t suit. Ripon was where he started the ball rolling an both runs yielded a win with an almost carbon copy performance. Strongly run race saw Vanguard settled in about 4th/5th position. Travelled very well and was the last off the bridle when he angled for a run. Quickened up well and put the race to bed in a few strides, running out a 2 length winner. It was the same analysis for both runs, except the second was off a career high 84. The hat-trick was complete at Kempton where again he had to defy a career high. Again settled off a strong pace he quickened up smartly to come through with a burst of speed that his rivals couldn’t match. Following that win he was lumbered with an OR of 93. Now he would need to prove how far he had come, with two runs at Kempton against quality handicappers. Both times he was drawn awfully but ran well to finish third and fourth respectively. His final run was a performance that said “I’ve had a long and hard season”. This year he is going to need to take another step forward as top handicaps will require this. He has an entry in the Lincoln Handicap on the season’s curtain raiser at Doncaster. If he is ready then this does look like a natural place to begin and then take it from there. It would be great to see him run in these type of races as they guarantee a strongly run race which suits Brilliant Vanguard perfectly. Spring Mile, Royal Hunt Cup, Cambridgeshire are all top races that hopefully he can prove good enough to tackle.
Hey Jonesy has already proved himself at the very top level but he has a few stable mates this year that are unknown quantities who could be anything. They will be out early with Classic ambitions in mind and hopefully they can prove to be the next stars. NEW SHOW, MORNING WONDER & ALKHAWANEEJ BOY only have 5 runs between them but this has yielded 3 wins already and all have shown plenty of potential. New Show has the pedigree to be top quality, by a champion and out of a champion (New Approach x Music Show). He made the perfect start to his career when winning on debut in a 7f Novice race at Ayr. Having shown plenty of inexperience early he found himself well in touch turning for home. With ease he moved through the 5 runners field down the outside to find himself in contention for the lead 2f out. Still travelling well he was shaken up and soon hit the front. Despite looking around a little in front he powered on and galloped all the way through the line to win by 1 3/4 lengths going away. It was only a small event but the manner in which New Show travelled and galloped was very impressive. Kevin managed to ignore temptation in running him again last season, feeling that time would be better for the horse. He has always shown a powerfully galloping style at home and will likely go for a trial of some sort to see if he is good enough for the Guineas (entered in the Irish Guineas). Alkhawaneej Boy is another who will take that route. He didn’t start his training at Hambleton Lodge but once he arrived he showed that winning would not be an issue. Making his debut at Thirsk, the colt was very slowly away and had no option but to sit and wait. It’s not the place to be at Thirsk and when turning for home the leaders kicked clear to dispute between them. He had too much to do but showing great heart he picked up well to quicken through the field and finish a very promising fourth, making the most eye catching run. He built on that experience next time out at Leicester when he won in gruelling conditions. This time he was smartly away to press the lead early on. Travelling well throughout he found himself in the lead 2f out and still full of running. Powering clear there was no stopping him and Alkhawaneej Boy strode out to win by an emphatic 6 lengths. Again like New Show there is untapped potential but he will need to prove how good he really is. He has shown a good attitude and plenty of ability so a trial could well be a good starting point if he was to try and replicate Glory Awaits second placed finish in the 2000 Guineas (entered in the French Guineas). With a record of 2,1 Morning Wonder has already gone in the right direction but now he will be asked serious questions. Having been beaten on debut purely due to his inexperience, Morning Wonder then took a step forward to earn victory at Leicester in a 1 Mile Novice Race. Racing prominently to chase the leaders, Wonder travelled well into the race. They got racing from quite a way out and Ryan Moore had to get to work turning for home. Once they got straightened up Morning Wonder shifted through the gears and powered through to take control. He was clear with the final furlong to run and a little bit of help was needed. There was a late pounce from the runner up and that threat helped to spur Wonder on. He got the job done and Ryan was very complimentary about the horse who he felt just hit a flat spot 3f out. It was immediately clear that he would appreciate further and Kevin decided to put him away for his 3yr old season. The form of that win worked out with the race throwing up plenty of winners. Morning Wonder looks likely to want 1m2f, 1m4f and although it is a big ask he holds an entry in the Derby. At this moment that is where he will be targeted with a Derby trial more than likely being his first port of call.
There’s a good mix of older horses who have the experience and quality behind them to provide another successful season. With a blend of multiple winners and some younger horses maturing into themselves, the team looks like it should be providing winners at all levels.
Already a dual winner this year is MOUNT TAHAN who has thrived since being stepped up in trip. He has always provided a win or two each year and run well in some good races but hasn’t always been the most straight forward. After trying 1m1/2f for the first time, narrowly going down b y a neck, he showed a really nice attitude when settling off the pace. This tactic was used on his following two runs which both ended in a burst of speed to take the win. He maintained his good form last time out and there was a temptation to run in the Winter Derby. He has gone up to 100 now but there are still some options for him on the all-weather. Kevin would like to step him up in trip once more and this will determine his future options (is entered over 1m4f at Wolverhampton Sat 3rd March). Regarding the turf season, it could be that something like the John Smiths Cup is a race that would suit Tahan
Mr Rahman also has two young pretenders who will try to match Mount Tahan. EVERYTHING FOR YOU & ARMANDIHAN are both 4yr olds who have shown good levels of ability but promise much more. Everything for you shed his maiden tag last year and looked set to go on from that. Unfortunately he was still immature and a little bit raw so could never reach the heights he threatened to do so. Over the winter he has been gelded which could well be the key to him. He is lightly raced so still open to a lot of improvement and his last run was one that saw him bounce back to some form. That was a step up in trip and it could well be that he develops into a nice 1m2f performer. Armandihan is almost certain to start at that trip following two good efforts late on last season. Always a horse who has had a big reputation, Armandihan got off the mark in a 7f Maiden. He seemed disappointing in and around this effort but once he tried 1m2f it was obvious that the trip was all wrong. With another winter on his back and the correct trip in mind, hopefully 2018 can see him fulfil that huge potential.
With three of wins last season COMPANY ASSET took her form to a new level. She really showed a much more experienced attitude to her racing and relished the step up to 1m2f. After a hugely impressive handicap win at Haydock, the filly then went on to finish 2nd in a Listed event at Saint Cloud. Now 5yrs old, Company Asset has done everything asked of her, reaching a handicap mark of 100. With her future in mind it will be a search for black type with her as the mare has achieved everything else. CANNY STYLE hasn’t quite reached the same heights but her consistency has proven admirable and she continues to deliver good performances every year. She has recently tried hurdling, which again she proved to take in her stride, winning once and being placed on her other three starts. Now she is on a well earned break but will be back again for the turf when refreshed and no doubt will be in the winners enclosure over either codes in 2018.
Another triple winner hero last year was LUALIWA who saw a rise of 16lbs in the handicap. After making a successful return to action when winning his maiden, Lualiwa proved to be a real tough and consistent performer. His form read 32112 in his next five starts and he really showed a likeable attitude, going out and laying it all on the line. He took a big step up in class on his penultimate start and proved he was up to it when finishing a close 6th of a career high mark of 95. His last run can be forgotten due to the length of his season and this year he will be looking towards some top handicaps. He made his return at Newcastle in February but found himself badly drawn. That run would have done him the world of good and he may be aimed at the Lincoln handicap, which he holds an entry in. If he proves good enough then a race like the Bunbury Cup could ideal for him.
Mastercraftsman grey who runs in green colours is always something that will be associated with Kevin and he may have another this year to make headlines. Ok so it won’t be a classic win but KAJAKI could well improve to compete in some good staying handicaps. You would struggle to find a more consistent and game performer than Kajaki, with his form last year yielding 2 wins and 4 seconds from 8 starts. He showed a much more relaxed running style that really helped him flourish. Although he performed well the handicapper was lenient with him meaning that he will start this season form a mark of 84. Obviously he needs to improve from this but he does look physically a much more finished article. We would love him to develop into a horse that could tackle the Ebor at York and if he is good enough then that is where he will be aimed. Another one in the ownership of Mr Frank Gillespie if ERIK THE RED who you know what get from him. Talented middle distance performer, his wins record isn’t as good as it should be but he always gives a big win each year. Throw in some top performances in good handicaps, especially at York and Doncaster, Erik could land on a big one.
One division where Kevin is always strong is with sprinters and there looks to be a few who will surely be competitive throughout the season. Stable favourite LEXINGTON ABBEY is back again and on a mark of 96 will be taking on some decent races. So many times he has come close and there has always been the feeling that there is a big one in him. Being 7yrs old will make that a little more difficult but he will surely be on the scene as he always is. Another Middleham Park owned sprinter is NAADIRR who will be looking to recapture his best form. Very talented on his day, the first few runs did not go to plan after he was moved to Hambleton Lodge. Late in the year he produced a run at Doncaster that got everyone’s attention. Travelling strongly he came through and just failed in his bid when going down 1/2 length in third. Hopefully we know enough about him now that he will soon be back on the score sheet. MAJOR JUMBO has been a real speedball throughout his short career gaining three wins over the minimum distance. He is a real consistent horse having only finished outside the places on four occasions throughout his career. It was quite easy to pin him down as just a 5f specialist but arguably his best effort came on his final run last year. Racing off 90, he made all in a competitive 6f handicap at York, only the second time he tried the distance. Using his natural speed he had the field burnt off before seeing the trip out strongly to repel a late challenge. Now 4yrs old the top 5f/6f handicaps will be his target, possibly with 5 1/2f of the Portland being the perfect race this season. MONT KIARA always provides a win with his late turn of foot and hopefully this year he can take the step up to the next level. NAUTICAL HAVEN has been running well on the all-weather, racking up four 2nd’s on the bounce. He will be kept going and then into turf season, hopefully getting his head in front again. He may well get 7f in time too. No horse travels stronger than LAUGHTON and this year he will be looking to really improve through the ranks. With a wind operation over the winter hopefully this will help hime throughout his races. PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH is a new recruit who has shown good form but just tailed off towards the end of the year. Change of scenery could be ideal for him and we are excited to get him on the track and learn all about him. BOGART still loves the game and is back again, desperate to get his head in front. He was so unlucky last year and if he runs anywhere near that form then he will be breaking that losing run before long.
3 YEAR OLDS
With an enforced break last season the two year olds didn’t really get too much exposure and they head into their three year old season with very little mileage. From what they showed last year it seems like we could have a strong hand and there is plenty to be excited about.
One horse that really took the eye was AYUTTHAYA who had some very good form to his name. His debut run almost produced a first win as he led throughout the contest. Having gone clear he just started to get a little lost out in front and was collared in the last 50 yards. The winner was Lisheen Castle who went on to be placed at Listed level. York was his next stop and again he took up front running tactics. Unfortunately he was to bump into Elarqam making his debut. Although beaten 3 lengths, Ayutthaya was clear of the rest. This form was seriously boosted when the winner went on to win the Group 3 Tattersalls Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths, proving to be one of the top 2yr olds and now as short as 12-1 for the 2000 Guineas. It was this time lucky for Ayutthaya as he got off the mark impressively at Chester. Again he made the running but this time there was never any danger of being caught. All the way he turned the screw and nothing could live with him. Comfortably he ran out a 2 1/2 length winners and gained the win he richly deserved. Kevin immediately finished him for the season as he looked likely to make into a fine 3yr old. He has done great over the winter and really is an exciting prospect. It will be interesting to see what trip he ends up running over but he looks like a smart horse and could develop into a top performer. He may well start over 1 Mile and go from there but a top 3yr old handicap definitely looks well within reach for him.
COMMANDER HAN recently returned to action and made a big impression when running away with a 7f Novice Race at Chelmsford. Having arrived at Hambleton Lodge with a £400,000 price tag, expectations were high. His first run in the Convivial maiden at York only fuelled these expectations as he ran a solid race despite being green throughout. When he failed to build on that at Redcar next time out it was clear that Han was just not quite ready and time would be the only way forward. It proved the right call when Kevin took the wraps off him in January. He travelled well throughout before powering clear down the home straight. With every stride he was getting stronger and going further clear which suggests that at least 1 Mile will be his trip. He gained his first handicap mark following this win which puts him on 90 and Kevin now has a few options. The reason for running him on the all-weather was to make sure he was 100% race fit come the turf but he may run again if the right race comes along. If not then he will be looking towards some top races and could well tackle ones such as the Silver Bowl at Haydock or Britannia Handicap at Royal Ascot, both top 1 Mile 3 yr old handicaps.
One horse who has already tackled a top race is STORMBRINGER. After a very pleasing debut run, where he finished 3rd to the smart Another Batt, Stormbringer shed his maiden tag on his next start at Redcar. Close up from the off he travelled well before taking up the running with 1f to go. As soon as his head was in front he powered clear and was not for stopping, running out a good 2 length winner. This performance tempted connections to go for the Group 2 Gimcrack at York. For a long way he matched Sands Of Mali, eventual winner, stride for stride. It was a very strong pace but in the last furlong he just couldn’t match his counterpart, being outpaced to finish 6th. It was still a good performance but it gave the impression that he may need further. At the minute he is not 100% fully wound up so it will be interesting to see where his ideal trip lies. He is a nice horse and will certainly be mixing it with some top 3 yr olds. Depending on what he shows at home his trip will be decided closer to the season but there are plenty of options anywhere from 6f-1Mile.
Kevin ended last season with a strike rate of 20% with his juveniles, giving him 20 individual winners. There was a few who managed multiple wins but only one has remained in training this year. ELNADIM STAR only saw Beverley as all three of her runs came at the Yorkshire track but it did provide two wins. Having done well on debut from a difficult draw, she improved in her second start to quicken up late on and win a novice event by 1 1/2 lengths. She showed that was no fluke when she took a second novice event, this time doing the impressive thing of carrying a penalty. She was settled a lot further back on this occasion but again showed a good turn of foot to sweep through the field and get up late on to win by 1/2 length. The handicapper has given her an opening mark of 79 which seems quite fair. There will be plenty of options for the filly and having come back looking bigger and stronger, it’ll be no surprise to see her improve with 6f looking likely to be her trip, at least to start with. Running in the same colours will be GOLD STONE who matched her stable mate when winning a division of the same novice race. Having finished second on debut she then went one better to win cosily at Beverley at the second attempt. She isn’t the biggest of fillies but certainly has ability. She does not have a handicap mark yet so will be likely to start in a novice race over 5f/6f. SALAZAR made a perfect start at Ayr, overcoming greeness to win on debut. That was followed up by a good effort at York and he looks like a horse to improve as a 3yr old, likely over 7f and 1 Mile. SAVALAS looked to have a very bright future but didn’t quite manage to reach the heights expected. Strong traveller he did well to win at Thirsk, beating a good yardstick, but didn’t build on that. He has been gelded over the winter and this could easily see him improve off his current mark of 79. Savalas is a sprinter so will be trying 5f/6f races and hopefully can end up taking in some top 3yr old handicaps. Gelding MONT KINABALU proved to be the key to success as he won on his fifth start, quickening up to take a 7f Novice race at York. His last run didn’t match that form but he has come back looking very well and physically stronger. We are hoping he can improve off his mark of 80, likely over 7f and maybe a Mile. HAVANA STAR, DANDY’S BEANO won at either ends of the season and will be looking to improve from their current marks. BUNGEE JUMP won last year but then her form dipped. Thankfully she has bounced back with some good efforts recently and will continue to run on the all-weather over 6f/7f.
There were plenty of juvenile winners last year but there are some nice 3yr olds who will be looking to shed their maiden tags in 2018. Unbelievably QUEEN’S SARGENT has not got a win to his name yet has some good form and picked up over £20,000 in prize money. From 6 runs he had 3 placed efforts with his second in a York nursery being the pick of the form. His final run was in the ultra competitive Wetherby’s 2yr old race at Doncaster, where he managed a very respectable 8th place, beaten just over 4 lengths. Gelded over the winter he is by Kendargent who’s progeny improve with age. Hopefully he can get his head in front and is likely to be suited by 7f. VJ DAY looked a nice prospect but it became clear that he wasn’t quite ready and was weak last year. Back after a winter break he is doing everything right at home, looks physically strong and could be better than his mark of 72. Owners Aquis Farm also have KINGS FULL & FINISHER who were both going to be 3yr olds. They will be running on the all-weather and then onto the turf where in time they can develop into nice horses. HOW BIZARRE has already been seen this year, finishing second on his return and looks likely to be winning sooner rather than later. His trip will be 7f/1 Mile and off 69 he should be very competitive. SANDYTOWN is another who has already been out and pleased on his return. With very little options he had to run over 5f which was on the sharp side but now he can step up into handicap company and will be kept going on the all-weather and into the season. DALAWYNA came back to finish second on her return and will be another who is now eligible for handicaps. One more who is sired by Kendargent, she will improve throughout the year. KNIGHTED gained a mark off 73 thanks to a couple second placed efforts. He had to tackle soft going but still managed to perform well. Better ground will suit him and he certainly looks bigger and stronger now. He showed last year that he would appreciate 7f so this may well be where he starts off. JUNGLE ROOM impressed at the breeze ups but just wan’t physically capable of replicating that on the track. With a good break over the winter he has strengthened up and will be aiming to get back to the track soon, possibly starting on the all-weather.
Like every year we also have a lovely bunch of 2 year olds who we cannot wait to get out and start on their racing careers. They have been doing good canters since the new year and are now going upsides. We are waiting to get the first group away to gallop on the turf and this will give us a good understanding of which ones will be early. It is always an exciting time of year and hopefully there are plenty of winners there with a few stars thrown in along the way.
We are very lucky to have a great team of staff at Hambleton Lodge which brings success year on year. Our owners are very loyal and to repay their support is always important. It looks like a very strong and varied team of horses this year and we are excited about what the season holds. First and foremost we wish all the owners the best of luck and that all horses and jockeys enjoy a safe season. The clock is now firmly on countdown as we look forward to Doncaster opening up the 2018 season.