It's St Leger eve, and the racing on the Town Moor ratchets up a notch (mercifully) with three Group 2's and a Listed contest in the midst of a seven race card. It starts before two, with the first of the G2's, the Flying Childers Stakes.
1.40 Flying Childers Stakes (Group 2) 5f
Fifteen speedy juveniles line up for the Friday opener, a race which has tended to be for 'now' horses rather than those who go on to prove themselves at three and beyond.
Flying Childers Trends
With thanks to horseracebase.com for some of these stats, based on events since 1997:
Only four of 17 winners also won last time, and only nine of 17 were even placed the last day
Despite that, eight of the 19 to be sent of favourite or joint/co favourite obliged, for a profit at SP
15 of the last 17 Flying Childers winners had run in the the past month
16 of the last 17 winners had run at least three times
All 17 winners since 1997 had at least tried six furlongs, and 12 of the 17 ran over six furlongs last time. Backing either of those groups blindly was profitable at SP
Flying Childers Form Preview
It's a right trappy race is this, and I don't like it at all. The sensible thing to do then might be to leave it to the handicapper, who has Ahlan Emarati on top (109) by two pounds from both Beacon and Cotai Glory. Fast Act is on 105, Bronze Maquette 104, and the 100 club is rounded out by Mind Of Madness (103), Moonraker (102) and Mukhmal (100). I'm going to focus my energies on that group.
Ahlan Emarati has both the highest official rating, and the highest speed rating from Peter May. He's won in a big field over this trip on quick ground, and has held his form well through the season, having gone down by a half length in the Group 2 Gimcrack last time. A repeat of that form over this furlong shorter trip would see him in the frame, and he looks the likeliest winner.
Cotai Glory was impressive when beating Fast Act in the Molecomb, and his five furlong speed is his major asset. With a few others in the field liking to press on as well, however, he might just struggle to get his own way on the lead, and may set it up for the more versatile types pace wise, including Ahlan Emarati.
Beacon was fractions behind the aforementioned pair in the Molecomb, and the step back to five after only a fair effort in the Gimcrack should help. That said, there's no obvious reason why he should reverse form with either Ahlan Emarati or Cotai Glory (or Fast Act for that matter).
Fast Act failed to stay the six last time in a competitive sales race, and the return to five is right up his alley. He'll probably find at least one too good, but at 25/1 he looks a fair each way bet, especially with trainer Kevin Ryan having a solid record in the race and being in good form just now.
Mick Channon's team are also in excellent form, which brings Moonraker into contention. Very well fancied last time, he could only finish a head second to Mind Of Madness there, but trouble in running was the difference between all those tickets being cashed and the stakes remaining in the bookies' satchels. Moonraker is progressive and gets Ryan Moore again, but I don't think 8/1 is any sort of bargain.
Flying Childers Tips
Not a race I have a strong feeling about, but I'd take Ahlan Emarati at 15/2 in a place to win, and Fast Act as a bit of each way value at 25's with Betbright.
2.10 Mallard Stakes Handicap (Class 2) 1m 6 1/2f
A great race for three-year-olds is this, as the weight for age allowance offers them a twelve pound concession over this extended middle distance. They've won ten of the last 17 renewals, from just 47 runners, and have had another ten placed in that time. That's a 21% win rate, worth a profit of 13.08 units at SP.
There are just three from the Classic generation in the field this year, and I very much like the chance of Adventure Seeker. Ed Vaughan's Dalakhani colt ran a blinder when finding only Vent De Force too good in the Melrose Handicap (known as the three year old Ebor these days) over 132 yards shy of this trip, and he might have won it if the additional yardage was in play at York that day.
Luckily, for the winner was a 22/1 geegeez pick, he didn't quite get there, but this progressive lad can defy a six pound penalty against older rivals. Adventure Seeker is 6/1 with a few firms, and I'm on each way.
2.40 Doncaster Cup (Group 2) 2m2f
The feature of the day is the staying Cup race, the Doncaster Cup. Hat-trick-seeking Times Up would be the first horse since Beeswing in 1842 to achieve that ultra-rate feat, and he has a strong chance. Before we look at that, here are the trends.
Doncaster Cup Trends (since 1997)
9/17 Doncaster Cup winners also won last time out. 13/17 were placed 1-2-3 last time
Older horses have an excellent record with seven year olds and up winning seven times from 32 runners (22%) since 1997
Ten horses aged six and under have also won, albeit at a lower strike rate, so age is no barrier
Of the 13 winners since 1997 with an official rating, ten were rated 110+
That last snippet truncates the shortlist to just Estimate and Times Up.
Doncaster Cup Form Preview
A fascinating race which looks to revolve around the 'trends' pairing of Estimate and Times Up.
The former, owned by The Queen, has yet to win this season, but has run two fine races either side of a flop at Glorious Goodwood. That might have been excusable on account of both the track and the ground, and silver medals in the Ascot Gold Cup and the Lonsdale Cup read well in the context of this race.
A little bit of ease in the ground on the round course is ideal, and Sir Michael Stoute's filly has every chance of getting her head in front at a distance that could be perfect.
Times Up, like Estimate, has also failed to win this term, but he's had excuses. Trainer Ed Dunlop reported, "“The Lonsdale Cup [when he finished third behind Pale Mimosa and Estimate] was like his first run of the year and prior to that he ran on terrible ground in France when he was sick and he was also sick for his seasonal debut at Newmarket. On and off he was one of the illest horses in my yard."
If that is taken at face value, then his run when third in the Lonsdale Cup behind Estimate looks a great prep for the hat-trick bid. Clearly, race conditions hold no fears, but the one fly in the ointment is that there might not be much of a pace for him to run at here. For a horse that likes to be held up and played quite late that could be sub-optimal.
Still, he looks to have a fine chance of emulating Beeswing's treble of 172 years ago.
The most interesting of the remainder could well be Clever Cookie, a good National Hunt horse who has become a good flat horse. Indeed, Clever Cookie won the Grade 2 Kelso Hurdle over this trip back in March before embarking on his maiden flat season. Although it's been a long year for him - he's had nine races already in 2014 - he seems to be taking his racing well, and has climbed out of handicap ranks to a rating of 106. With just five flat runs on the board, he clearly has further scope and, at 12/1 or so, looks the best each way option.
There is a raft of horses trying to bridge from handicap to Group class, including Repeater, Angel Gabrial and Whiplash Willie, but each looks fairly well exposed at this level. Perhaps Brass Ring has a little more to come after seven starts, and Johnny G remains in his perennially good form.
Doncaster Cup Tips
Ultimately, I think the market has this banged to rights, with Estimate the most likely winner but Times Up makes marginally more appeal as a value play - and a story horse. Clever Cookie looks the best each way option.
3.15 May Hill Stakes (Group 2) 1m
This fillies' mile juvenile event has been won by some smart staying lasses, including in recent times Certify, White Moonstone, and Spacious. It has also been won for the last four years by Godolphin, who bizarrely perhaps, are not represented this time. There remains a chance to 'keep it in the family' however, as the market is headed by Sheikh Hamdan's Muraaqaba, trained by Mark Johnston.
The daughter of Dubawi has won two of her three races, the pick of which was a seven furlong Group 3 last time. The step up to a mile should suit on pedigree, and she looks to be versatile as regards ground having won on soft and good to firm. Muraaqaba has more scope than a number of her rivals, and is rated seven pounds clear of the next best.
Second favourite is Eddie Lynam's Agnes Stewart, a twice raced daughter of Lawman. She was beaten last time in a seven furlong Group 3 on good to firm, and it's possible she'll appreciate the easier turf on the Town Moor. Lynam has had a phenomenal season with his British raiders, winning with six of his ten runners (!) and placing with another two, so it doesn't take Einstein to fathom that this filly commands respect.
Still, I'm reluctantly overlooking her prospects on the basis that fifteen of the last seventeen winners had also won last time, but more importantly on the basis that I don't believe her form is quite what the jolly brings to the dance.
No, I think that Muraaqaba will win, unless she succumbs to either the least or the most experienced filly in the field. The least experienced is the once raced Banzari, trained by Michael Bell and ridden by Jamie Spencer. Bell loves loves loves a winner at this meeting, and though he's yet to score in this particular event, the rolls of honour of the meeting are scattered liberally with his name.
Banzari has had just the one run, a thoroughly promising second of ten in a seven furlong Class 3 maiden at Salisbury. She was held up there, and gained all the way to the line in the manner of a nice horse. Obviously this is a huge step up but she wouldn't be here if the trainer didn't think she had a lot more to come, and at 25/1 she's worth the chance, to small money, each way.
The more experienced Astrelle has had six runs now, including a minor place in Group 3 company last time. She'd won her previous two races, and might have taken a while to get the hang of things. I wouldn't be certain that she'll see the mile out as well as some, but she could lead and set steady fractions. That would give her a chance of getting home and of stealing a march. Again, 16/1 is a smidge on the big side.
May Hill Stakes Tips
I think Muraaqaba will win, but I couldn't back her at the price. Rather, I'll roll the dice with Banzari, each way. She needs a leap rather than a step forward, but might be able to make one, and if all eight stand their ground, then we'll look to get at least 5/1 for the place part.
3.45 Coopers Marquees Handicap (Class 2) 6 1/2f
Some real old favourites in here, and much will depend on which are having a forward day. The likes of Bogart and Royal Rascal have plummeted from their best ratings, and if the fire still burns in either of them, they could shock at a monster price.
More likely to be involved at the death is Chipchase winner, Danzeno. That Group 3 contest takes a bit of winning, and this extended six furlongs looks right up his street dropping back into handicap company. The reservation for me is the break of 76 days since that victory, and the fact that Group prizes have been eschewed in favour of a handicap pot. At 2/1 that furrows my brow sufficiently to continue the search...
...and maybe Doncaster specialist Badr Al Badoor could be the one. Three runs within half a furlong of today's trip have yielded a win, a second and a fourth place; and James Fanshawe's team are in flying form. He was only beaten a head, over 110 yards further, last time; and conditions look optimal with Alejandro highly likely to tow him into the race.
There are lots with chances on a going day, but none looks better served by the shape of the race than Badr Al Badoor and he's a surprisingly confident selection for the type of race. 5/1 with bet365 has been taken.
4.25 Flying Scotsman Stakes (Listed) 7f
Seven furlongs for the young men this time, and this juvie contest has a largely listless alumni. Listless that is, but for the 2010 winner, a certain Frankel, who was sent off what with hindsight looks to be the best 1/2 shot of all time!
There's unlikely to be a Frankel in this field. No, there is NOT a Frankel in this field, but there might still be a smart colt in the shape of White Lake. Luca Cumani's Pivotal colt was an unheralded 25/1 shot for the Class 2 Convivial Maiden at York's Ebor meeting, but belied those odds to streak home by a couple of lengths from some well-touted rivals.
The form is already working out, with second placed Secret Brief and fourth home, Bright Flash, both winning their next starts. Trip and ground are fine on that last run, and this is not such a big step up in grade as his rivals face, with the exception of Toocoolforschool.
Toocoolforschool ran in a Group 3 last time - the Acomb Stakes at York - and was bested only by a head over this trip. The winner that day was the progressive Dutch Connection, and fifth placed Salateen franked the form on Wednesday by bolting up in the nursery.
Toocool has better form in the book, most likely, but White Lake has much more scope and gets the nod. It looks a pretty fair exacta race between the pair.
5.00 Classified Stakes (Class 3) 1m 2f 60yds
Some good horses have won this race in recent years, including Breeders Cup Turf winner Dangerous Midge. It looks a wide open race, as a ratings differential of just five pounds between all thirteen runners implies, and I don't really have much of a view. But one that ticks a lot of boxes, albeit that he might not be quite good enough, is Ty Gwr.
Brian Ellison's boy has only had one run this season, a couple of weeks ago, and he'll come on for that; but his form of last season puts him right in the mix.
He's recorded the fast speed rating, just, and should get the fast pace he needs to show his best. It'll be no more than a limped in each way wishy-washy wager, unless I cop with both my earlier fancies, but he might run better than a 25/1 poke (PP). And he might not. 😉
Best of luck with your Friday fancies. Leave a comment below and share your best bets.