Ulysses eclipses Barney Roy in a Sandown classic

Coral Challenge 2021 Preview: Prominent Racers Hold The Key

The Eclipse always gets the bulk of the attention on the Sandown card but it’s very rarely a good betting race and I find the so called ‘Coral Challenge’ which is a one mile class 2 handicap, often with a decent sized field, is the race to get stuck into. This year looks no different. The race is due off at 2.25pm with a field of fifteen declared.

Just like at Haydock, it looks as though the ground will be drying out as we get closer to the off time but there are some showers forecast on the day of the race. This is Britain, during the summer, so it’s always possible they’ll get plenty more than is forecast. As it stands we’ll probably be looking for runners that don’t enjoy extremes of going.

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Draw

Let’s take a look at potential draw biases for this race.

We have a fairly decent sample size here and the first thing that stands out is just 6 high drawn winners compared to 14 and 15 from low and middle respectively. The place percentages back up the win data with low and middle producing place strike rates of 23.72% and 25.15% respectively, which both compare favourably to the place percentage of 17.31% for high draws.

The PRB figures suggest that middle is the best place to be with a PRB of 0.53 compared to 0.5 for low and 0.47 for high.

With middle possibly preferred and high draw runners seemingly at a disadvantage, we need to check the individual stall data for sweet spots.

Some slightly strange data with stalls 14 and 15 producing strong PRB figures, surprising given the overall poor PRB for higher numbers. Stalls 7, 9, 10 and 11 all have poor records, which suggests that area of the draw could be at a disadvantage but the very best PRB figure belongs to stall 8 at a whopping 0.64.

With the slightly random nature of the PRB data I’m going to look into the place percentages. Stalls 9, 10, 11 and 13 all perform relatively poorly here whilst some of the best performers are stalls 6, 8, 7, 3 and 5. It looks the case that you can run into decent finishing positions from any draw but the most important finishing positions, the win and the places, are most likely to be taken by those drawn in a low to middle area. However given the slightly random nature of some of this data I wouldn’t write off anything drawn high.

Pace

Hopefully the pace data will be a bit more straight forward to interpret.

Yes it is! The win percentages and the place percentages both follow a similar pattern whereby leaders have the best record, prominent is next, mid division is third best and being held up is worst of all. A win percentage of 19.51% for front runners and a place percentage of 43.90% look extremely impressive compared to the other run styles and it seems pretty clear that any runner getting even a whiff of an easy lead will need strong consideration.

In terms of volume, the most common run styles that win or place are prominent and it definitely looks a case of the closer to the pace the better.

Early leaders are profitable to follow for win purposes (Win PL of 17.50) and even more profitable for each way bets (EW PL of 30.63).

Coral Challenge Pace Map

So are any of these runners likely to get an easy lead at a course and distance that seems to suit front runners?

Very possibly is the answer to that. Marie’s Diamond is shown as the sole pace in the pace map but Maydanny is unlikely to give her an easy time of things up front. An early crawl probably isn’t likely given those pace options but they are unlikely to go fast either.

Magical Morning tends to sit just off the pace and that will almost certainly happen here, leaving him well placed. Montatham is another that tends to track the pace so he can potentially be upgraded slightly whilst the pace map may be slightly misleading as far as Acquitted is concerned. He often tracks the leaders but was bumped early last time out, dropped in trip, and didn’t get the early position he likes. Expect him to be on the prominent side of mid division.

Other than those runners this race is full of horses that like being held up. They won’t all be able to be held up here or many of them will end up very wide but those that race in mid division or even prominently might not be seen to their best if they are usually waited with.

Given the course pace data and this pace map I’d be extremely keen to side with one of those mentioned above as likely to be fairly prominent. It’s also worth noting that the ground could be slightly dead on Saturday if they don’t get much rain and it can often be difficult to make up ground on a lifeless surface at the best of times so we could see even more of a pace bias than usual.

Draw and Pace Combination

The draw data was slightly confusing for this race but perhaps looking at it in combination with the pace data could be helpful.

We have established that early pace could be key here but early pace from a high draw is far less effective than from a low or middle draw. Maydanny and Marie’s Diamond are both drawn high, as is the prominent angle Magical Morning.

Meanwhile Montatham and Acquitted, who can both race prominently, are drawn much lower. Low and middle draw PRBs of 0.71 and 0.68 for early leaders are extremely strong, but it’s unlikely either Montatham or Acquitted will lead. Prominent runners from either draw are also seen to good effect though.

A low draw could be deemed an advantage here but low draws that are held up have a PRB of 0.44, the worst of all the draw and run style combinations. Those that race in mid division do best from a middle draw, no great surprise given if they are drawn low they could get trapped on the rail. Sandown isn’t a course where you have much time to recover if you meet trouble in running.

This data suggests low to middle and leading or prominent are the best combinations, although mid division from middle draws can be good too. With not much early pace on dead ground mid division could still end up being too far back though.

The Runners

This is the full field for the Coral Challenge, in early odds order.

Montatham

Last year’s winner is now rated 109, 9lbs higher than when winning this last year, so this would be some weight carrying performance. He’s certainly earned that mark though. The runner up from last year’s race rated 7lbs higher that season whilst the 4th and 5th came out and won shortly after. That win came on fast ground, which Montatham wouldn’t necessarily want, so he can be marked up further from that.

Despite winning this last year off 100, Montatham wasn’t done winning handicaps. He won the Clipper Logistics handicap at York’s Ebor meeting off a mark of 104, beating Sir Busker who is now rated 8lbs higher. The 3rd was Top Rank, now rated 10bs higher and the 5th and 6th both won handicaps shortly after. Montatham has a habit of winning strong handicaps off high marks so he can’t be ruled out off 5lbs higher here.

He should be well placed and the ground will be fine so there are two main question marks. He hasn’t been sighted since the opening weekend of the flat season. He was third in a listed race on that occasion but ran as though the run would do him good. Having now spent 98 days off the track it's possible he’ll need this run too.

The other question mark is the booking of Adam Farragher as jockey, claiming 5lbs. He’s had 388 rides in the UK and Ireland meaning he has plenty of experience but he brings just a 5.15% win strike rate into this. He hasn’t ridden a winner since January – that’s 69 rides without a victory. He’s ridden five times for William Haggas and has gone well on his last two but doesn’t have a winner for him.

Acquitted

He seemingly has an inconsistent profile but he has a major chance on the best of his runs. He was successful twice as a 2yo and started life in handicaps chasing home no other than Palace Pier, getting 9lbs and a 3.25 length beating. His form tailed off on his next two starts and he subsequently missed the second half of last season and was gelded.

He returned this season in the Spring Mile, the Lincoln consolation race, and that race worked out particularly well.

All of the runners who finished in the first ten places who have run since have either finished 1st or 2nd, marking that down has hot form. You could argue Acquitted hasn’t gone on from there but the ground was probably too soft when dropped in trip at Ascot next time out. Acquitted has won on heavy ground but Hugo Palmer thinks he wants good ground – and pretty much nothing else! His run at Doncaster seems to back that up. He does have a good record on the all weather so it was no surprise he ran well at Chelmsford last time out despite everything seeming to go against him. He was bumped at the start meaning he couldn’t get a good early position and then he met trouble in running before staying on very well when in the clear.

The step back up to a mile here should suit, as should a return to prominent racing tactics used on his last few runs at this distance. The negative is a 4lb rise for being beaten almost 2 lengths last time out. Yes he was unlucky but the handicapper has very much taken the view of what might have been rather than the bare form. However coming into this 5lbs higher than when beaten just a neck in that hot Doncaster race isn’t the end of the world.

Magical Morning

Still lightly raced and the Gosden team could hardly be in better form. With Frankie Dettori on board he’s sure to be popular, especially with a potential pace bias in his favour. He was a bit disappointing in the Hunt Cup, ‘only’ finishing 8th and he very much got the run of the race on his final start at Doncaster last season and still found one too good. He’s possibly only averagely handicapped, for all he’s capable of improving, and he probably wouldn’t want any more rain with fast underfoot conditions coinciding with his best form. Dead ground might not be ideal either but he can’t be completely written off for this team with this pace setup.

Pythagoras

The sole 3yo in the line up and it’s possible he could race prominently, although he was held up two starts ago. That run came in the Dante Stakes where he was around 6 lengths behind the subsequent Irish Derby winner – not bad form. He was then ridden prominently when running okay in the Golden Gates Stakes at Royal Ascot. That run came on ground he had won on before and possibly proved this horse is no better than his current rating of 99. Connections will be looking for him to improve for the drop in trip, which maybe he’ll do, but he certainly needs to find improvement.

Ransom

Beaten a similar distance in two handicaps to date but is yet to receive any respite from the handicapper. Being trained by Sir Michael Stoute and having a lightly raced profile hasn’t helped with that, nor has it helped with the prices he gets sent off at. The soft ground probably didn’t suit last time out , in which case his third was a decent effort, and that form is working out just about okay. He was one of the few to get into it from off the pace that day too so can be marked up slightly. He’s not going to find it much easier to close late here though which is the main problem and reason to oppose. He’ll be of interest in other races at other venues but he’ll need plenty of luck here.

Trais Fluors

A winner over course and distance two starts ago before not getting much of a run when running a creditable 10th in the Hunt Cup. The race he won here was well run though and his best form has come on very fast ground so given he’s likely to be held up from stall 12 on dead ground he’s opposable.

Beat Le Bon

Second home on the far side in the Hunt Cup and has been in good form in recent starts. He’s definitely capable of winning a decent race off this sort of mark this season but he’s another that is best on fast ground off a fast pace and he’s unlikely to get the race run to suit.

Plantadream

Improved for his seasonal reappearance last time out when 3rd at Epsom, staying on well when it was difficult to get into races. He’s one to look out for at Lingfield, despite being rated 6lbs higher on the all weather, and although he’s capable of winning a small race off his current turf mark he doesn’t look well enough handicapped for this, especially with the pace setup unlikely to play to his strengths.

Escobar

Generally an Ascot specialist these days who is at his best with plenty of dig in the ground. Didn’t get his underfoot conditions in the Hunt Cup and finished well beaten but had previously run very well in the Victoria Cup. He generally goes quite well at this venue too, he has been 2nd in two previous renewals of this and one of those efforts was off just a 1lb lower mark. He’s handicapped to potentially run well but he’s yet another that would prefer a good gallop.

Marie’s Diamond

Just twelve months ago he placed in the Queen Anne Stakes and now finds himself running in this handicap off a mark of 105. He’s shown versatility with regards to the ground but the main problem seems to be his consistency. He ran well enough in the Earl Of Sefton Stakes on seasonal debut but has been below that form on his last two runs. He’s well handicapped on plenty of his form and poorly handicapped on the most recent two efforts. Getting an early lead here might help but there seem to be no pattern to his form to be able to determine whether or not he’ll turn up for this.

Maydanny

Still had only the ten runs despite seemingly being around for ages. He won two races by wide margins last season but was also below par on several occasions and that sort of inconsistency has been a problem this season too, finishing runner up in the Suffolk Stakes on seasonal debut before barely beating a runner home in the Royal Hunt Cup. Should enjoy a tactical advantage here but his best form in recent times has been on more undulating tracks, on faster ground and over further.

Accidental Agent

In okay form in two runs this season, running well in a Newbury handicap off a 1lb higher mark before a creditable 7th in the Queen Anne Stakes. Doesn’t seem to have much in hand on his current rating but isn’t badly handicapped either, the main issues here seem to be the need for a decent pace and probably being better on straight tracks. He appeals for something like the Balmoral Handicap later this year.

Orbaan

Arguably a bit disappointing for current connections, beaten in seven handicaps off marks north of 100. He returned this season in good form, finishing 5th in the Lincoln, but most of the winners who have come from that race were the runners who were well beaten. He had wind surgery after than and showed up well last week at Newcastle, held up in a slowly run race, traveling best and not beaten far. He’s another who isn’t badly handicapped but is likely to be poorly positioned here when the race gets going. I’d love to see him tried over 7f in a big field.

Bedouin’s Story

Well beaten in the Buckingham Palace Stakes when fairly well fancied and although this step back up in trip will probably suit he needs to come forward massively for that race, his first since February. He seems suited to speed favouring courses and a slowly run race around here is unlikely to play to his strengths.

Fantasy Believer

Can ruin his chances with slow starts and seems to be in the grip of the handicapper now, on turf at least where he is yet to win a race in twelve attempts. A mile and a good gallop are his conditions and he’ll probably only get one of those here.

The Verdict

Pythagoras isn’t completely ruled out if he gets a good early position but he doesn’t look brilliantly handicapped and is pretty exposed now for a 3yo. Maydanny and Marie’s Diamond could be the main beneficiaries of a pace bias assuming they don’t take each other on (Maydanny might just take a lead from Marie’s Diamond) but neither are consistent enough and both are drawn wide.

Magical Memory will definitely be well placed and represents in form connections and a top jockey. If the ground was likely to be fast he’d be worthy of some support but ground conditions may be slightly against him, even if it continues to dry out it will still be no faster than good and on the dead side.

That leaves Montatham and Acquitted as two who should be close enough to the pace who also have leading form claims. The absence since March is a slight concern for last year’s winner plus I’d have reservations about backing a jockey with a less than 6% strike rate riding a favourite, even if Montatham is a relatively straight forward ride. His handicap form from last season is top notch though.

ACQUITTED is the one I am most interested in here. I’ve been waiting to back this horse at a mile on good ground since his Doncaster run in March and even though his 4lb rise for his latest effort is a little harsh, he still looks well handicapped in the grand scheme of things. He seemed to take well enough to first time tongue tie and blinkers last time out and assuming James Doyle makes the most out of stall 2 by riding him prominently like he did in the Spring Mile (first ride on the horse since then) he should be able to go very close.

Several of those likely to be held up here will be of interest in the near future, particularly Ransom and Beat Le Bon, but it would be a surprise if the patiently ridden runners get into this.

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