Front runners are strongly favoured over Chester's five furlong course, amongst others Pic Steve Davies/ Racingfotos.com

Ejtilaab Has Plenty In His Favour In Chester Handicap

Not the greatest line up for the ITV cameras this weekend ahead of next week’s Epsom classics but some decent enough handicaps, complicated slightly by how much the ground will be drying during what we can finally call ‘summer weather’. One of the more interesting betting races of the weekend could be run at Chester, their 7.5f handicap at 2.40pm features several in form contenders and as you’ll expect at Chester, there will be a strong draw and pace bias.

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Draw

Everyone knows about the draw bias at Chester but it does vary depending on distance, how strong is it over this 7.5f trip?

A field of twelve go to post here (although a couple of high drawn withdrawals can never be ruled out at this venue) and we have a decent enough sample size on this sort of ground.

Unsurprisingly the low draws provide most winners but there is not as much between low and middle as you may think. Low draws have a win percentage of 11.18% compared to middle’s 9.72%. The place percentages are almost identical and there isn’t a massive amount between the PRB figures either (0.55 for low draws, 0.52 for middle).

The market clearly hasn’t reacted to the fact that middle draws perform only very slightly worse than low draws - middle draws have been profitable to back both win and each way and produce the best A/E figures.

What is also clear is that a high draw definitely is a disadvantage with a PRB of just 0.43.

There is bound to be a point at which a good draw starts becoming a bad draw so let’s take a look at the individual stall data.

Ignoring the data for stall 13 (small sample size and only 12 runners here), the best stalls appear to be 2, 6 and 8 when looking at the PRB figures. There is a massive drop off in performance when looking at stalls 9, 10, 11 and 12, which are the four worst stalls, and it looks like you certainly don’t want to be drawn any higher than 8. It’s interesting that stall 8 has a strong PRB figure of 0.55 yet has only produced a single winner from thirty-eight races. A horse can clearly run well from stall 8 but a place looks far more likely than a win from there.

Stalls 1 to 7 inclusive have generated 79% of the winners in this sample so unless you have found something you think could place at a big price or has a massive amount in hand of the handicapper you are best off concentrating on these seven stalls to find the likely winner.

Pace

Draw is rarely an underestimated factor at Chester but pace regularly is. How strong a pace bias is there over this trip?

The front running bias isn’t as strong as over some shorter distances here but it certainly still exists. Front runners have both the best win percentage (11.29%) and place percentage (38.71%). The success rate falls steadily for both win percentages and place percentages the further back in the field you go and it’s interesting that whilst there isn’t much between front running and racing prominently as far as win percentage goes, front running produces a far superior place percentage. Front running is the only style of racing that produces a profit here and it does so for both win and each way bets.

Pace Map

This is the pace map for this race, based on the last two runs of each runner.

Not a huge amount of pace in this one, with Ejtilaab looking a likely pace angle from stall 1. Alexander James and Hey Jonsey look likely to track the pace and be well placed from their favourable draws whilst the likes of Mission Boy, Another Batt, King’s Knight, Hayadh and even Azano would ideally want to be at least handy but the higher they are drawn, they better they’ll need to break to get their desired positions without being posted very wide.

With so many prominent racers in this field the higher drawn prominent racers risk going too hard to get to the front, being posted very wide if they race where they’d normally race or being positioned further back than they’d normally like.

A lot of Hayadh’s form is over further so whether he has the early pace to get across is open to debate. Azano would ordinarily try to lead, he missed the break a couple of starts back so had to settle for racing handily and he certainly won’t get near the lead if he misses the break here from stall 12.

Those in the rear are likely to struggle given the lack of likely breakneck pace around this course so the likes of Boardman, Tadleel, Via Serendipity and Gabrial The Wire are likely to be at a disadvantage.

Draw and Pace Combination

With such a strong draw advantage and pace bias it’s pretty likely the draw and pace combination heat map will show if these advantages and disadvantages are compounded when put together.

Unsurprisingly the combination of a low draw and early pace is very effective with a PRB of 0.60 for front runners from low draws. Being prominent from a low draw is also a big advantage but the advantage of being drawn low tapers off the more patiently a horse is ridden.

Being in mid division from a middle draw is surprisingly the best position according to these PRB figures, it’s also the third best place to be according to the win percentages. There aren’t any runners in this drawn in the middle that consistently race in mid division though.

A high draw can be overcome if the runner is able to reach the lead. Statistically the worst place to be is prominent from a high draw and there are definitely several contenders who seem likely to be stuck there.

The Runners

This is the full field, in early odds order.

Ejtilaab

A very obvious starting point given he ran well at Chester’s May meeting, over this course and distance, on this kind of ground. That run was better than it seems for several reasons. As discussed above, the very high stalls have a poor record here and he was drawn in stall 10. He was also ridden prominently, the worst kind of ride statistically for a high drawn runner.

The only two runners to finish in front of him from that race that have raced since have both won whilst the 6th and 10th have also won since and the 8th has finished runner up since. That’s extremely hot form.

The ground would also have been soft enough for Ejtilaab that day with all his best form coming on good or better ground. By race time it should be at least good here.

Ejtilaab looks likely to go forward from stall 1, putting him in the ideal position, and he has another good run at this course to his name having finished 2nd to Wild Edric last September. That runner is a bit of a Chester specialist with two wins and two runners up places there whilst the 3rd was Baby Steps, a horse that has finished placed at Chester in all seven previous runs there. Ejtilaab is 7lbs higher here but he’s evidently still improving and even his last win off a 4lb lower mark shows he is still well handicapped – the runner up won on his next start and the 3rd has won since too.

The main concern here is the form of the Ian Williams yard. In handicaps in the past three months Williams has a PRB of 0.50 and that has dropped to 0.43 in the past 30 days. In the last couple of weeks the majority of runners have been well beaten but there have also been a few winners too.

Another Batt

A comfortable winner last time out at Thirsk on soft ground having been 1.75 lengths behind Ejtilaab at Chester the run before when better drawn. As a result of that win Another Batt is now 3lbs worse off.

His last two runs have come at Thirsk but he did win here as a 3yo and he has previously won a handicap off a 9lb higher mark at Meydan in 2019. He’s probably not as good as he was back then and drying ground is almost certainly against him but he’s just about okay drawn in stall 7 and is capable on a going day.

Boardman

An easy winner on his last two starts but now 10lbs higher than his last win. He was 2nd to Persian King as a 2yo and Tim Easterby seems to have finally found the key to him. He threatened to be a well handicapped horse last season, especially here when catching the eye when staying on from a hopeless position into 5th. That was off a 10lb lower mark and there is every chance he suffers the same fate here as he has been well suited by making headway on the bridle up long straights on his last two starts. Ejtilaab was over 4 lengths ahead of him in that race and is 3lbs better off in this.

King’s Knight

Lightly raced 4yo for Charles Hills who tends to race prominently. He’s only won one of his four handicap starts and that was in a class 4 Lingfield all weather race (3rd won since). He went up just 3lbs for that which seemed fair but has been raised 6lbs for finishing 2nd which seems harsh. It’s possible he’s improving enough to defy that but the yard’s horses seemed in better form the last time this horse ran. Charles Hills has a PRB in handicaps in the past 3 months of 0.59 but that’s dropped to 0.50 in the past 30 days. That's by no means poor form but it is a dip in form and since King’s Knight last ran Charles Hills has had twenty three handicap runners and just two winners at 5/1 and 13/8. Stall 8 isn’t ideal but he at least has the early pace to possibly get a good early position near the lead.

Azano

Was runner up behind Another Batt last time out, enjoying the soft ground, and although he’s 5lbs better off here that’s unlikely to be anywhere near enough to make him of interest from stall 12. He can be a touch slow from the gates on occasions and that would kill any chance he has of getting across from that draw early and the drying ground is against him too. Not badly handicapped but things have conspired against him here.

Hey Jonesy

The 2020 Wokingham Handicap winner hasn’t got closer than 6 lengths to a winner of his races in five starts since. He’s now just 1lb above his last winning mark but both his wins have come at 6f rather than this extended 7f and he’s surely being campaigned towards a repeat bid at Royal Ascot in a few weeks’ time. He can lead but more likely to be prominent from stall 3, especially with stamina concerns.

Mission Boy

He’s run some decent races since moving here from Italy during the winter but hasn’t been well enough handicapped to win a race and his handicap mark has only fluctuated by 1lb. If anything he needs to go up in trip on softer ground rather than down in trip on drying ground and it would be a small surprise if he had the tactical speed to land a serious blow in this contest.

Tadleel

Won a couple of 7f handicaps at Newcastle in the winter but was a big let down in the Lincoln Trial when poorly placed but not picking up at all. His best form has undoubtedly come on artificial surfaces although he seems to get on pretty well with Newmarket and York. His run style isn’t really best suited to this course and there is real proof of that as he’s finished 10th and 11th in two runs here off lower marks. Well enough drawn but plenty of question marks.

Via Serendipity

A better horse on the all weather but his split handicap mark reflects that. He’s won off a 7lb higher mark on turf in the past and certainly looks well handicapped again but his very best turf efforts have come at Ascot, unsurprisingly for a horse that is better on artificial surfaces. He’s raced handily in the past but tends to be held up these days and the booking of Jamie Spencer suggests those tactics will be employed again here. He was tried in a first time visor dropped back to an inadequate 6f last time out at Doncaster and he ran okay given the trip was too sharp, certainly suggesting he can win off this sort of mark over this sort of trip. Stall 9 and a hold up ride are pretty off putting here though and he’ll be more interesting elsewhere (preferably Ascot) on fast ground.

Alexander The James

Makes his debut for Mick Appleby having spent the first part of this year running poorly in France. He’d previously raced in this country for several trainers, often running on softish ground over a little further. He hasn’t shown much since September so a lot depends if Appleby can revitalise him. Appleby used to be a trainer to follow first time out when getting runners from other yards but he's had just one winner from his last thirty-eight qualifying runners according to the Trainer Change report. Appleby has had a further thirteen 2nd or 3rd places from those runners so he does still often have them firing. This runner looks likely to track the pace from stall 2 so has plenty in his favour if back to form and the market could enlighten us as to what kind of form he is expected to be in.

Gabrial The Wire

Owned by Dr Marwan Koukash so unsurprisingly knows his way around here. He’s gained three wins here and a further two places from fourteen runs, the most recent of those wins coming over this trip off a 2lb lower mark. He seemed to lose his form in August last year though and the fact he ran in September, then not again until November and then has been absent since suggests he’s had some training issues. He’s gone okay fresh in the past but form and well being are taken on trust and stall 11 is a big negative too.

Hayadh

Ran well off this sort of mark in 2018 over course and distance (only try here) and can be competitive off marks in the high 80s. Most likely didn’t stay when well beaten over 10f last time out and better judged on form at this sort of trip which includes close 4th in an average looking race at Redcar and a well enough beaten 7th when well placed in the Thirsk Hunt Cup. This trip is a little shy of his best though and he’s likely to be caught wide from stall 10 so whilst he’s likely to pop up in his next few runs it will probably be when his sights are slightly lowered and when he is better drawn.

Verdict

This looks one of those races where we're not looking for anything wildly well handicapped, it’s a case of finding the runner with the least amount of negatives. Another Batt looked good last time out but he’s largely inconsistent and seemed to improve last time for very soft ground. Boardman is capable of defying his new mark but he’ll do well to win this and Chester’s tight turns won’t allow him to make up ground on the bridle as he’d probably like which could leave him poorly placed again when the inevitable sprint for home begins. King’s Knight is capable but is drawn wide than ideal and could find several lower drawn runners also wanting to race prominently. Jim Crowley would probably be best off trying to get the lead rather than tracking the pace.

The ground and draw are going against Azano, Hey Jonesy is wildly out of form and probably won’t stay, Mission Boy isn’t brilliantly handicapped and will probably find this test too sharp, Tadleel has run poorly twice here before, Via Serendipity is well handicapped but is likely to be poorly placed and likes very fast ground, Alexander James has been out of form, as has Gabrial The Wire, whilst Hayadh is poorly drawn and prefers a little further.

That leaves a slightly unoriginal choice of EJTILAAB. He’s happy leading but doesn’t have to lead and he should be close to ideally placed in this. He can hold the rail regardless, saving ground, and the bulk of his form gives him an excellent chance of winning this. Richard Kingscote has ridden the horse twice, when winning at Chelmsford and when finishing 5th from an almost impossible draw here last time in that hot handicap. He’s run well on both starts here and even the drying ground is in his favour too. He’s not a bad price at 4/1 when you consider all of this, even if the bookies do overreact to stall 1 around here. The stable form is a slight concern but Ejtilaab did run well just three weeks ago. King's Knight looks next best.

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