EPSOM 31-5-19. Investec Oaks. ANAPURNA and Frankie Dettori (far side) beats PINK DOGWOOD (Ryan Moore) for trainer John Gosden. Photo Healy Racing / Racingfotos.com

Early Favourite Has The Power At Epsom

There is some great live action at Epsom on Saturday and although ITV are showing the first five races from their card it’s possible the two most interesting betting races are the pair of contests that act as the Derby meeting’s finale. This preview is going to concentrate on the ‘Northern Dancer Handicap’, which will be run at 5.15pm over the Derby trip of 12f.

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Draw

Draw advantages can often be stronger at shorter distances, is there a bias over this longer trip?

There looks to be a pretty strong draw bias here on ground ranging from good to firm down to good to soft. The sample size isn’t the biggest but even if you include non-handicap data the trends are still the same.

In similar field sizes to this there have been no low drawn handicap winners in thirteen races. Nine have come from middle draws and seven have come from high draws. With a small sample size the place percentages and PRB figures are much more relevant but they too back up the win data.

The place percentages for low, middle and high draws are 14.06%, 27.42% and 34.38% respectively. The PRB figures are 0.42, 0.52 and 0.56 respectively. Those are some hefty jumps in performance, especially between low and middle. It seems a high draw is favoured over middle but a middle draw certainly shouldn’t be deemed a disadvantage, it’s far more preferable to a low draw.

Let’s dig deeper into the individual stall data.

Looking at the PRB data for each gate, stalls 3 and 6 actually perform pretty well but remember we have a small sample here and the four worst figures belong to stalls 5, 1, 2 and 4 strongly suggest a low draw is a negative. In fact the worst six stalls for PRB are all 8 or below.

The PRB3 data shows an average of the stall in question and the two stalls either side and looking at the line graph above featuring the PRB3 data it clearly shows the higher the draw the better over this distance. Each runner is going to enjoy a slight advantage over the runner drawn slightly lower.

Pace

Is the pace bias as strong as the draw data?

The win percentage data seems to suggest a strong front running bias in similar field sizes in handicaps with a 14.63% win percentage for front runners compared to 7.37% for prominent, 8.82% for mid division and 9.85% for held up.

However we have a pretty small sample of races here and the place percentage data should give us a more accurate representation of any pace biases. The place percentages here are 26.83% for front runners, 24.21% for prominent, 30.88% for mid division and 30.30% for held up. The place data seems to suggest this is an extremely fair course and distance in terms of pace bias.

It’s entirely possible that the win percentage data for front runners isn’t misleading. Front runners can slip the field when getting an easy lead but I wouldn’t worry too much about any pace biases over this distance unless the pace map for a particular race suggests an extreme, one way or another.

Pace Map

It seems the pace setup of this individual race is far more likely to create a pace bias than the course itself.

There are three contenders for the lead here. Group One Power made all over course and distance last month before leading at Ascot on his next start. He went 5 lengths clear at one stage under today’s jockey Silvestre De Souza and he seems highly likely to try to grab the lead in this.

Australis often likes to front run but he’s dropping back half a mile in trip and isn’t guaranteed to have the early pace to head Group One Power. In fact he’s been unable to lead early on his last four turf starts.

Lost Eden has led or been ridden prominently on all four career starts. A couple of those were penalty kicks though in hindsight and on his latest run, at listed level, he was ridden handily. Perhaps those will be the tactics again here.

Whatever happens there should be a ‘fair’ gallop on so pace shouldn’t be a huge consideration for all it will play it’s part.

Draw and Pace Combination

As usual the draw and pace combination heat map is well worth a look before we go through the runners.

The above includes non-handicap races too in order to get a much bigger data sample, but tells a similar story to the handicap only heat map. A huge draw is advantageous, as we know, but high drawn runners from mid division under perform for whatever reason. There is almost now difference between front running, being prominent or being held up from a high draw. Prominent underperforms for the middle draws and it is interesting to see the more patient the ride the better for low drawn runners. Low drawn runners that try to get near the lead do not fare well.

The Runners

This is the full list of twelve runners, in early odds order.

Group One Power

This Andrew Balding trained runner has a likeable profile having won three of his seven starts and only disappointing once so far (off for 284 days after that so seemingly had an issue). He’s gone up 6lbs in two runs this season but could still be well handicapped based on his Royal Ascot form from last season.

Group One Power was only beaten 1.5 lengths in that race off a 6lb lower mark than he carries here and the winner has subsequently rated 24lbs higher, the runner up 12lbs higher, the 3rd 23lbs higher, the 5th 14lbs higher, the 6th 7lbs higher, the 8th 24lbs higher and the 9th 5lbs higher. That’s as hot as hot form gets!

He's likely to lead from a fairly high draw in 8 and he’s already won over course and distance. He has been beaten on both runs on soft ground though and would almost certainly like a drying day on Saturday.

Lost Eden

Unsuited by soft ground in a listed race at Ascot last time out and was also found to have had an irregular heartbeat when beaten 128 lengths. He’d previously won a maiden and a novice over 10f at Lingfield but 2 lengths and 9 lengths respectively but didn’t seem to beat a whole lot in those races (the runner up in his novice has been beaten in handicaps off a mark of 68 since). The handicapper faced a pretty thankless task having to find an official rating for this one and 98 possibly flatters him on what he has achieved so far.

He might be well handicapped (was thrown into a listed race after all), but he has to prove his well being after his last run, his effectiveness on turf (especially after Friday's rain) and he could just as easily be very badly handicapped off that mark.

Andrea Atzeni has an A/E of 1.24 and an IV of 2.14 here over 10f+ so you could maybe mark up the horse’s chances a little but he seems very opposable at the price.

Soto Sizzler

A bit of a course specialist having won twice and finished runner up once from three course and distance starts. The wins came off 83 and 88 and his defeat was off 92, when bumping into Group One Power last month. He was only beaten three quarters of a length and although he’s 2lbs higher he’s 4lbs better off so would have a chance of reversing the form. However he is drawn in stall 2 and that seems a fairly big negative (he was drawn 11 for both his victories). His most recent run can be forgiven as he didn’t seem to stay 14f but the draw makes him far less interesting than Group One Power, even at the relative prices.

Midnights Legacy

A horse that looked to be going places last June when winning twice, beating the well handicapped but quirky Indigo Lake on the most recent of those wins. He seemingly lost his form after that and was then inconsistent on the all weather over the winter. He found only the improving Opera Gift too good at Salisbury on his return to turf last month. That was decent form (4th went close next time out, 5th won since) and the drop back to this trip will probably suit better. Still well handicapped on his best form but he’s not always the most reliable.

Wait For The Lord

David Elsworth’s 5yo mare has had a slightly unconventional career, starting life in bumpers before winning an all weather novice, followed by an okay run in listed company before a handicap debut off a mark of 95 in January. She found Lingfield’s 10f sharp enough but ran well enough in 4th and the winner and runner up have both won since.

After a 96 day break she was too keen twice and ran poorly but she ran well enough last time out at Group 3 level on good to soft on her first start at this trip. She seemed to run to her rating in 4th and could find a more truly run handicap more in her favour, but she’s drawn in stall 3 which won’t help her chances here.

Red Force One

He's gradually worked his way up in trip over the years winning over 13f on his latest start in a four runner Ayr handicap. The runner up won next time out (up in trip) and he won his race much easier than the official margin suggests but that win came slightly out of the blue and he’s not guaranteed to back that up off a 5lb higher mark in a much tougher contest. Good draw in 9 and not without a chance though.

The Trader

In excellent form last summer, winning or placing in all three starts, before missing the rest of the flat season. He was in mixed form over the winter on the all weather (best effort was a 2nd off a 3lb lower mark) but has won on turf already this season, albeit over a furlong further at Hamilton. He didn’t back that up under a penalty next time and his overall profile doesn’t suggest he’s good enough to win this off 95, especially from stall 1. Has made the running in the past but tends to be handy more often than not. Goes on any ground.

Australis

First or second in eight out of nine starts on artificial surfaces but no wins and just three runners up spots on turf. Those efforts came off marks in the 70s and he’s yet to get within 7 lengths of the winner on turf off marks in the 90s. All his best form, even on the all weather, is over further than this too so this is probably just a prep run for the Northumberland Plate later this month, a race in which he was a close 2nd last year. One of the easier ones to oppose for sure.

Autumn War

Lost his form for Charles Hills in 2019 when looking well handicapped off marks in the mid to high 80s and then missed a year before moving to Ian Williams. He was beaten out of site on his yard debut before winning twice on the all weather moved up to 14f, with cheekpieces added. He was then found to be lame when disappointing on his next start and ran as though needing a return to 14f on his latest start three months ago (went without the cheekpieces that day). He still looks to have mileage in him from this mark but he’d be a more reliable proposition in headgear, on the all weather and over further. Fairly interesting but this probably isn’t the time to catch him, possibly another being aimed at the Northumberland Plate.

Frontispiece

A reliable yardstick who was around 8 lengths behind Group One Power last time at Ascot. Loves softer ground so Friday's rain is in his favour and on the evidence of his seasonal debut he'd have a leading chance here given he was 4th and the 1st, 2nd and 6th amongst others have come out of that race and won. That race did come at Newbury though and he seems to save his very best for that course. His chance has definitely been underestimated here but he'd make far more appeal at Newbury.

Koeman

Has a much better strike rate on the all weather than turf but has won off a 2lb higher mark than this on turf. Difficult to tell what kind of form he’s in given soft ground wouldn’t have suited last time and he probably hasn’t been staying two miles previous to that. He’s not the most consistent though and he’ll probably need a career best to win this.

Percy Street

A rare runner at this venue for David Pipe and the last two went off at big prices over this trip and were very well beaten. This horse has run poorly on the flat in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 and will probably make it a five timer here by running poorly on the flat in 2020.

The Verdict

I really expected to find this more competitive than it seems  to be after closer inspection. There are several in with some sort of chance but they largely have some major negatives. Lost Eden remains with potential but looks poor value all things considered, Soto Sizzler has a lot going for him but isn’t fantastically handicapped and is poorly drawn, Midnights Legacy looks fairly handicapped still but is unreliable whilst Wait For The Lord, Red Force One and The Trader probably need easier opportunities.

At the time of writing 10/3 is available on GROUP ONE POWER and it looks a very fair price. His chance is probably improved by this race being run at 5.15pm with a full drying day likely. He’s one of the few that have proven course form and he definitely still looks well handicapped.

I'd also be interested in having a saver on FRONTISPIECE. He should be well placed given it didn't seem easy to challenge from off the pace on Friday and 20/1+ seems to underestimate his chances even if he does seem to be best at Newbury. His form from his penultimate run is excellent and he could easily end up in the places here (lots of bookies paying 4th).

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