Expect Hannon and Bell to duel for the Cup

I’m taking a trip to Ascot for this weekend’s preview, and focusing on the Victoria Cup.

With 27 runners currently declared, this seven-furlong handicap looks pretty competitive, and the winner, as ever, will take some finding. I’m heartened by the fact that I got lucky last year, though I admit to having had two shots at the target. Godolphin’s four-year-old Flash Fire, was the 20/1 winner in question, holding on bravely after looking likely to romp clear a furlong from home. He’d spent a winter at Meydan prior to the Spring campaign. Interestingly, the runner-up Mutawathea had spent the winter running on the all-weather.

Four-year-olds have a strong record in recent times, having won five of the past 10 renewals. Indeed, four and five-year-olds account for all-bar two of the victories in the past dozen years. Young and progressive types are therefore favoured over older more experienced sorts.

As in many large handicaps, weight carrying proves to be an important trend. Only two of the last 10 winners have carried more than 9st to victory, though last year’s renewal saw three of the first four breaking that trend. Nevertheless, the history of the race points to less exposed well handicapped sorts prevailing.

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Another stat worth noting, is the poor record of favourites. Zaahid was the last to prevail in 2008, otherwise, market leaders have rarely made much of an impact. Four of the first five home last year were priced at 20/1 or above, with the top pair in the market trailing in midfield.

Fastnet Tempest looks sure to go off favourite tomorrow. He’s certainly an unexposed type with just eight career starts, though this is only his second start over the trip. His seasonal debut at Newbury was promising, when chinned late-on in a 21-runner affair. He looked the winner that day, but wandered about in front. He’s clearly talented but has his quirks, and will have to be delivered at precisely the right moment if he is to win.

George William was a place behind him that day, having finished like a train. Trained by Richard Hannon, this four-year-old by Paco Boy is a three-time winner at the trip, and the way he finished at Newbury, suggests he’ll be suited by the stiffer Ascot track. He runs off 8-11, and I give him a great chance.

Jamie Spencer gave a stellar performance to take this race on Speculative Bid in 2015. He rides Taurean Star for Michael Bell tomorrow, with the horse and jockey looking well suited. Proven over the trip, and with two wins from four visits to the track, expect this one to be delivered as late as possible, in typical Spencer style. He’s another that looks to have the ideal profile.

The Warrior was eighth in this last year, but is 7lb lower in the handicap this time round. Still only a five-year-old, he’s been kept incredibly busy, with six runs since the end of February. He rarely wins, and has never won at the trip, and that, combined with his busy recent schedule worries me. However, I can see him going well off this handicap mark, and expect to see him flashing home late-on.

Despite the number of runners, I’m struggling to give many much of a chance. The older brigade look thoroughly exposed, with Heaven’s Guest possibly the most attractive off his current mark.

I’m left with a surprisingly short list of possible winners, and am siding with George William and Taurean Star. Both tick the appropriate trend boxes, and in a renewal, that perhaps lacks a little in quality, I strongly fancy both. Best of luck to those having a punt.

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