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Speed May Be Favoured In Tough Doncaster Handicap

The 2.10 at Doncaster on Friday is an interesting race not just because there are some lightly raced, progressive types on show. This race will be a rare run over 6.5f so let’s first see whether some of the more recent winners of this race were more 6f types or more comfortable over 7f.

2019 – Enjazaat – Thirteen of his fourteen races were over 6f, this 6.5f distance was the furthest distance he went.
2018 – Von Blucher – Won handicaps over a mile, 7f and this 6.5f trip but was never successful in nine races over shorter (needed every inch of this trip to get up).
2017 – Amazour – Other than a win at this trip, he also won three times at 6f and three times at 7f so seemed equally effective at both trips.
2016 – Normandy Barriere – Had placed form at 7f but this 6.5f trip was the furthest he won over and five of his six wins came at 6f.
2015 – Hoof It – Poor in all five runs at 7f or further and other than winning at this trip, all ten of his other wins came at 6f or shorter.
2014 – Badr Al Badoor – Unsuccessful in five runs over 7f (did place though) and her three other wins came at 6f.
2013 – Sir Reginald – Unsuccessful in seventeen runs over further than 6.5f and his two other wins came at 6f (also had a much better place ratio at 6f compared to 7f).
2012 – Cape Classic – Had some decent placed form at 7f but failed to win at that distance in ten attempts whereas he had a 50% strike rate at shorter than 7f.
2011 – Sirius Prospect – Won over as far as a mile but also had five wins over this distance of 6.5f or shorter.
2010 – Irish Heartbeat – Won twice over a mile (no wins over 7f) but had also won over 5f the previous season.

The above seems to show that this race rides more like a 6f race than a 7f race with speed over shorter a valuable asset for potential winners.

The Runners

Shabaaby

He’s found himself in no man’s land with his rating, not well enough handicapped for the big handicaps and not good enough to win at listed or Group 3 level. He was well beaten in a Newbury handicap two starts ago where only one winner has emerged from seventeen runs, and that was on a different surface. So off just a 3lb lower mark he’d have to massively up his game to be involved here.

Chiefofchiefs

A surprise winner of the Silver Wokingham this season at Ascot on his first start at 6f. He ran at Ascot again over 7f on his most recent start but even if you go all the way back to 16th place in that race, only one winner has emerged from twenty-five runs and that came at a different distance. He’s always struggled off this sort of mark and is likely to find many of these too quick.

Byline

Not the most consistent profile but he has some decent form to his name. When winning his maiden he gave 5lbs and a 3.5 length beating to Dark Regard, now rated 88, so a mark of 95 may not be beyond him. On his most recent win, off an 8lb lower mark, he beat a subsequent winner (Musicality who reopposes here) by 2.75 lengths so he has some good recent form in the book too.

His latest flop came on his first go on soft ground, the race in which Musicality came out and won. He has won on good to soft before but it’s possible the very soft ground was against him that day.

On his seasonal debut he was 3rd in a race that has worked out pretty well.

The winner of that race has since won at listed level, the runner up was 2nd again next time and the 4th has run well in defeat since.

Musicality

His form ties in quite closely with Byline. That rival gave Musicality 1lb and a 2.75 length beating on good to firm ground before Musicality beat Byline by 7 lengths in receipt of 8lbs on soft ground when Byline didn’t seem to run to form.

Musicality has a much more consistent profile than Byline and more scope for improvement having never been out the first two in just four starts. He has now won on both soft ground and good to firm so looks likely to give his running once again.

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Now getting 1lb once again from Byline, he’s no guarantee to beat that runner if Byline can bounce back but that’s obviously no certainty, even on better ground here.

Tranchee

Finding the right distance for this runner has proved a challenge in the past as he’s been tried over as far as 10f but for current connections he has raced solely at 7f. He’s yet to finish out of the first two for David Loughnane when completing, winning his debut for the trainer before unseating the jockey when exiting the stalls on his following start. He’s finished runner up on two runs since.

His last run came just a week ago so no runners have been able to show the strength of that form since but his previous race has been working out okay.

Tranchee himself gave the form a boost with his follow up 2nd whilst the 3rd finished in the same position again next time in a similar race and the 7th, Cold Stare, won next time out.

He’s yet to run at shorter than 7f but he’s got plenty of speed and has looked worth a try over a stiff 6f so this could end up being ideal. It’s worth noting that his best form seems to have come on soft ground or artificial surfaces but he’s had few goes on faster ground and is bred to improve for it compared to soft. The sire’s offspring have a 10% strike rate on soft (-22.15 LSP) compared to 17.87% on good to firm (0.69 LSP).

Manigordo

This 3yo has largely been campaigned over 7f, trying shorter just once when competing over this course and distance at this meeting last year in the big field sales race. He looked as if he’d prefer a bit further that day so it is no surprise he’s been kept to further since.

He has been well enough beaten on his last two starts at handicap level, the latest coming in an okay race with plenty of places since but no winners from seven runs. He only beat one runner that day though and almost certainly needs to drop more than 4lbs from that.

Ghalyoon

Possibly a huge handicap blot here. On his first start of 2019 he was 2nd to Group 1 winner Nazreef (rated 116), beaten just 1.25 lengths. Lyndon B, who would rate as high as 97 later that season was 6 lengths further back in 3rd.

If there were any worries that run was a fluke he backed that effort up when winning next time. It was only novice company but in hindsight another extremely strong race.

He beat Posted by 0.5 lengths and that runner has since been competitive in Group races, now rating as high as 105.

For Ghalyoon to still be rated in the high 80s looked an absolute gift going into his handicap debut, here at Doncaster a few weeks ago, despite coming back from a 399 day layoff. Ghlayoon found the line coming too quickly though, staying on late with purpose and only going down by 0.25 lengths to Magical Wish, who finished a close 2nd on his next start despite probably finding the ground slightly against him next time out.

Ghalyoon has generously only be raised 1lb for that effort and still looks very well handicapped but he doesn’t look a speedy type and looks best served by a strong gallop over 7f.

Danzan

Yet to win a handicap and unsuccessful in his last sixteen runs but he has been runner up in his last three handicap efforts. He’s only been raised 3lbs for those performances meaning he’s still 19lbs below his peak rating so the handicap mark shouldn’t be a huge issue.

The races in which he has finished 2nd look solid but unremarkable so he’d be a contender here if putting his best foot forward but it’s worth noting there was plenty of cut in the ground on all recent starts and this drying ground is likely to be against him.

Edgewood

Successful twice in three runs this season after a frustrating 2019 campaign. The 2nd and 3rd from his latest win have finished 2nd and 1st respectively in their next starts and considering he won that race by over 2 lengths a 7lb rise looks pretty fair. He looks a relatively strong stayer at 6f so the extra half furlong should be no issue.

Drying ground is a valid concern though as he’s failed to win in four runs on good or faster ground and he’ll be worth following when the mud is flying again.

Broken Spear

Without a win in his last thirteen handicap starts and has only dropped 9lbs in that time. He has placed on his last two starts but those have come in weaker looking races than this. There have been nine subsequent runs from the competition in his last two starts and none of those have placed.

Sunset Breeze

He's been a ‘typical Sir Mark Prescott improver’ this season despite racing at a much shorter distance to many of his stable mates. He completed a handicap hat trick earlier in the season in races that haven’t really worked out brilliantly.

He found a rise to class 2 too much for him at Newmarket in July, finishing 6th of 17 in a race where none of the first eight finishers have won since. It looked as though he might find a mark of 87 too high going forward but he seemed to improve for 7f last time out, going down by just a neck. He runs off the same mark here and is due to go up 5lbs in the future so it can’t be argued that he’s not well handicapped.

Pace and Draw

There aren’t a huge amount of races run over this distance at Doncaster so looking at data for this particular distance isn’t going to reveal any huge course biases. On good ground, a central stall has been advantageous over both 6f and 7f with high draws generally slightly better than low so we are likely to see the same trend over this trip.

An aggregate of the last two runs suggest possible lone speed here (from Byline) but it’s worth noting that Sunset Breeze contested the pace last time out. Tranchee is also likely to be very close to the lead early on.

Verdict

With a middle draw and a half decent pace to aim at Ghalyoon would have been a confident selection to win this if the race was being run over 7f. This race has tended to go to speedier types in the past though and as he heads the market it just seems a little too much risk at the price. It would be no surprise if he is a staying on 3rd or 4th here.

It is possible that Ghalyoon is ridden more handily this time around to negate the drop back in trip and he does look really well handicapped so it’s with a heavy heart he is passed over and I wouldn’t put anyone off at least a saver on this runner.

Musicality is clearly progressive and wouldn't be a surprise winner but he’s no sure thing to beat Byline, who is more than twice the price of Musicality, so the value seeker in me tends to prefer Byline of that pair. He’s no guarantee to give his running though unfortunately so isn’t selected for a bet.

Sunset Breeze is another with a decent chance but he’s yet to race on turf faster than good to soft and this is a quick enough turn around for him.

This certainly won’t be my most confident bet of the week but Tranchee is the one that interests me most at the price. He’s unproven over this trip, and on this ground to a certain extent, but he’s bred to enjoy a sounder surface and shapes as though a drop back in trip will suit. His form is solid enough, he’s been progressive for current connections and taking a lead off a decent pace over this trip might just see him at his absolute best. He's not yet the 6f type that normally does well in this race but he could yet develop into a good sprinter.

Grounds For Concern For Leading Superior Mile Runner

There are plenty of big handicaps on Saturday and we also have Group 1 action so it should be a great day for betting whatever your race type preference. This week I’m going to look at another one mile Group race, having previewed the Celebration Mile last week at Goodwood. This week it's the Group 3 Superior Mile (1.45pm) at Haydock.

I’ll be using Instant Expert once again for this race but it’s worth noting that there are some more lightly raced types in this race compared to last week which means there will be a few more unknowns.

The Going

The ground is going to be a hugely important factor here with underfoot conditions currently described as soft, heavy in places on Friday afternoon. It’s due to be a dry weekend so we’ll probably be look at soft ground all over.

To get as much data into Instant Expert as possible I’m going to include data from ground described anywhere between good to soft and heavy.

Superior Mile Instant Expert

A few things initially stand out here. First of all Dark Vision has failed to place in all four starts on softish ground. He’d have half a chance on his best form but it looks as though a line can be put through this runner when there is cut in the ground.

Khaloosy and Kinross both have both encountered softer ground once and they both won those races.

Stormy Antarctic and Qaysar have both had plenty of experience in these kinds of conditions and both have strong records. Stormy Atlantic has placed in six of his eight runs on ground ranging from good to soft to heavy whilst Qaysar is three from five as far as placing is concerned. The pair both have three wins when the mud is flying.

The well fancied My Oberon and Top Rank are yet to run on softer than good whilst outsider Graignes is also an unknown as far as the ground is concerned.

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For those that are yet to run on softer ground we can get an insight into their suitability for testing conditions by using Instant Expert to look at sire data.

Superior Mile Sire Stats

Stormy Atlantic (Stormy Antarctic), Kingman (Kinross) and Dubawi (Khaloosy & My Oberon) all score well here and those sire stats aren’t contradicted by what we have seen from these offspring so far which is great. Comparatively the offspring of Dark Angel perform fairly poorly so Top Rank is far from guaranteed to enjoy these conditions.

Class

My Oberon has run once and placed once in class 1 races. Stormy Antarctic is by far the most experienced of these at this level with fourteen runs and six places. Dark Vision has two places from six attempts in class 1 races so he’s had plenty of tries at this sort of level without much success. Another strike against that runner.

Qaysar and Top Rank both step up in class whilst Khaloosy has failed to place in his only run in a class 1 with Kinross failing to place in two attempts in class 1 races.

Course

Not much course form on offer here but a big tick for Qaysar who has placed in two runs from three here. Both of those places were actually victories.

Distance

Top Rank has been most consistent at a mile to date, placing in all five starts, which we know were all at a lower level than this. At the other end of the scale Kinross and Qaysar have not been as consistent at this trip.

Field Size

Top Rank and Khaloosy have both placed in their sole start in fields of this sort of size. We have much more data for Stormy Antarctic, Qaysar and Dark Vision who are clearly comfortable in these mid sized fields.

A Look At The Form

We have plenty of question marks still as we only have limited data for the more lightly raced contenders.

Doubts Over Top Rank and Kinross Justified?

Top Rank and Kinross are two runners who are on the brink of having a line put through them based on the results from Instant Expert. Top Rank was beaten by a length in a handicap off a mark of 103 last time out. He’s now rated 106 which leaves him with 8lbs to find on the top rated runner here. He is lightly raced so may still improve but he’ll need to do so on ground he’s unproven on so comes with plenty of risk attached for a 6/1 chance.

Kinross has form on this sort of ground but it’s difficult to weight up as it was a wide margin maiden win. He did beat the now 97 rated Raaeb by 8 lengths (in receipt of 6lbs) so it was a smart effort on that occasion. His two runs this season have come in Group 1 company and he hasn’t been totally disgraced, especially as those runs came on faster ground. He’ll need to improve for the return to this ground though and he’s as yet unproven in ground quite this soft so backers are taking plenty of chances.

The Shortlist

There is little form that suggests Graignes is going to win this and the ground looks against Dark Vision so we are currently left with:

Khaloosy
My Oberon
Stormy Antarctic
Qaysar

First let’s look at the more exposed pair of Stormy Antarctic and Qaysar. Stormy Antarctic has had an official rating between 111 and 114 for the past 4 years which means we should know exactly how good he is. Instant Expert has shown that he is a horse with an okay record in better class races that relishes cut in the ground. On heavy ground he has form figures of 112, on soft ground he has form of 114 and that defeat came at the hands of Roaring Lion in a Group 1. Even on good to soft ground at a mile his form figures are 10222 with that blowout coming in the 2000 Guineas.

He clearly loves this ground but how good is he? He’s the horse to beat according to official ratings, although there are several possible improvers in this line up. He’s won two of his three starts at Group 3 level over a mile. His defeat came earlier this year at the hands of Century Dream. He carried a Group 2 penalty that day (which he doesn’t have to shoulder here) and that was his first start in almost 12 months so 4th was a decent enough effort. At Group 2 level at this trip he has finished 2nd and 3rd and the ground wasn’t quite as soft as he’d like on either occasion. He’s clearly good enough to win this sort of race and will be getting close to ideal conditions here.

Unlike Stormy Antarctic, Qaysar is completely unproven at this level. He’s improved each season though and is rated just 3lbs shy of Stormy Antarctic courtesy of winning a handicap over course and distance on testing ground by 4.25 length off a mark of 105. He’s failed to reproduce that form in two runs since but one of those runs was in a small field conditions race on fast ground and the other was in a York handicap off a mark of 111 and he was well enough beaten on his previous York run off a much lower mark. He’s probably not going to prove much better than his current rating but his best career run came here under similar conditions and a reproduction of that might see him reach the places.

Khaloosy and Oberon actually met last time in a Group 3 at Goodwood and My Oberon was 2.5 lengths in front of Khaloosy. My Oberon was also badly hampered by the winner so was value for further. Whilst My Oberon looked at home on the ground that day Khaloosy looked all at sea with the combination of fast ground and unconventional track clearly against him. Khaloosy is much better judged on his previous effort at Royal Ascot where he won the Britannia Handicap easily. That race has worked out well and beating Finest Sound (now rated 94) giving him 7lbs and a comfortable looking 4.5 length beating means he probably ran to a rating even higher than his current mark of 111 that day.

My Oberon has no soft ground form and although he’s bred to handle it, he’s previously been described by his trainer as ‘a fast ground horse’ so there have to be some reservations. Those same reservations don’t hang over Khaloosy whose sole run in testing conditions was by far his best.

Pace

We all know how important pace can be, especially in these smaller field races that can be run at a crawl on occasions. Here is the pace map for this race based on their last four runs:

Superior Mile Pace Map

As you can see, there doesn’t appear to be much pace in this contest so those that are able to sit handily could be advantaged as could be those who have proven themselves to be a bit ‘speedier’. Stormy Antarctic stays further than this so he’d ideally want a strong test and many of Qaysar’s best efforts have come when held up, although he is tactically versatile. My Oberon has a nice race style for this sort of set up but the question mark over the ground remains. Khaloosy was held up at Ascot but those were the right tactics to employ on the day and he’s been ridden much more prominently in his other runs.

Verdict

Assuming Khaloosy isn’t just much better at Ascot, he deserves another chance here and after just 4 career starts he should be able to improve past the extremely solid yard stick that is Stormy Antarctic. Meanwhile Qaysar isn’t a terrible bet for a place and could fill 3rd spot behind the other pair if things go to plan.

Dream Conditions For Century In Celebration Mile

Soft ground seems to have scared many runners away this weekend leaving us with a day of largely smaller field races. The highest class race of the day is the Group 2 Celebration Mile at Goodwood and that’s going to be the focus of this article. One of the most popular features of Geegeez Gold is the ‘Instant Expert’ and I’m going to use the Instant Expert to gain a quick overview of the seven runners set to take part in this race.

Place Data

First let’s take a look at it from a place perspective:

Instant Expert Place Data

Ground

I’ve set the going parameter to anything from good to soft down to heavy. We are probably going to be looking at soft, borderline heavy ground for this race but this should allow us to get more data. We can dig deeper into what specific going each horse has handled or not handled later.

It seems that Century Dream and Sir Busker stand out as two runners that not only handle cut in the ground, but relish it. Century Dream has had the most runs on testing ground and has impressively placed in seven of his ten runs. Sir Busker is next best with four placings from six runs on ground that is good to soft or softer.

There is limited evidence about Urban Icon’s ability to handle cut in the ground as he’s had just two runs in these conditions, placing in one of those.

Interestingly enough Regal Reality and Benbatl, the two early favourites have failed to place in over 50% of their races in this sort of going. Between them they’ve managed just three placings in nine starts. The only runners in this field to have never placed on softer ground are Duke Of Hazzard and Positive who seem to have been kept away from softer ground as often as possible and with good reason.

Class

Century Dream again comes out on top having placed in five out of eight runs in class 1 races. Duke Of Hazzard and Positive, who scored poorly on this ground, actually score very well here. That’s not a big help though if they don’t go on the ground.

Urban Icon, Regal Reality and Benbatl have poorer records in class 1 races but it’s worth remembering this will include anything from listed contests to Group 1 races and there can be more merit in finishing 4th in a Group 1 than 1st in a listed race. We’ll dig deeper into the race class later.

Sir Busker is the only one of these to be running in a class 1 race for the first time.

Course

At a course as unique as Goodwood course form is always a positive. There is one clear winner here and that is Duke Of Hazzard who has never been out of the frame in four starts. Sir Busker has placed in two of his three runs. It’s fair to say that no runner is this field has run poorly at this venue.

Distance

You’d expect most runners in a Group 2 to have a solid record over the race distance but it’s worth noting that the favourite here, Benbatl, has managed just one placing in five runs at a mile. This stat really stands out and along with the ground stats for Benbatl suggests he has a poor profile for this race.

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Like Benbatl, Regal Reality is another who scored badly on this ground and also has a poor record over this distance whilst Urban Icon is another with a sub 50% placing ratio at a mile.

Century Dream continues to score well with the best ratio here having placed in 67% of his runs over a mile.

Field Size

Often an underrated criteria, many horses are better suited to bigger fields and others to smaller fields. Yet again Century Dream is looking good having placed in all his runs in field sizes of 7 or less.

The stand out here is Regal Reality’s record in small fields. He’s managed to place in just two of his eight runs in field sizes this small.

Placings Summary

Without having to dig deep into the form Instant Expert has shown us that Century Dream is the really solid horse in this race. Sir Busker also scores well in most categories but is unproven (having been untried) in this sort of company. Duke Of Hazzard looks pretty good but there are serious ground concerns.

At the other end of the scale, Benbatl and Regal Reality, look two of the riskier propositions despite their positions in the market.

Win Data

This is what Instant Expert looks like for win purposes. We are getting less data here but the data we do get should be more telling.

Instant Expert Win Data

Once again Century Dream is coming out very well on all criteria except course as he is yet to run at Goodwood. Sir Busker is another who looks solid and a good proposition over a mile on testing ground at Goodwood. He’s yet to prove himself in this company and perhaps the biggest question mark for this horse is his ability to run well in smaller fields.

Duke Of Hazzard is interesting based on his course record of three wins from four starts. He also has a decent enough strike rate at this distance and in small fields. He’s had only one run on softer ground and finished unplaced so that’s the big unknown.

Early favourite Benbatl only really seems to have small field ability in his favour for win purposes whilst Regal Reality is unbeaten at Goodwood but other than that most of the elements that make up this race seem against him.

Positive scores poorly for wins in any of these circumstances except field size, and even a sole victory from three starts in small fields isn’t that great on the face of things. Meanwhile there is little evidence that Urban Icon will be at home in this race.

Digging Deeper

So far we have a very positive profile for Century Dream, a generally positive one for Sir Busker and a big ground question mark over Duke Of Hazzard. It also seems Benbatl and Regal Reality might be worth taking on.

Let’s first look at Duke Of Hazzard’s ground preference as he may be easy to rule out on that basis. Instant Expert is only able to look at runs from the UK and Ireland and a deeper look at Duke Of Hazzard’s form tells us he’s actually run three times on ground softer than good. Two of those runs were perhaps slightly below par but in Group 1 company so finishing unplaced wasn’t a disgrace. He also finished 2nd in a listed race at Deauville on good to soft. It doesn’t look as though he’s hopeless on softer ground and he clearly goes very well at Goodwood but there has to be a suspicion he is at his best on fast ground and it will probably take a near career best to win this.

Are Benbatl and Regal Reality really no hopers in this race despite their odds? Benbatl is the highest rated runner in this field and has largely been contesting Group 1 races over the past few years so having more unplaced efforts isn’t the end of the world. Looking at the ground though, he has been beaten favourite on softer than good on three of his four starts in those conditions (and was well beaten over too far a trip on his other attempt). The worse the ground gets, the worse he performs it seems.

Benbatl also had some worrying stats in races over a mile. Two of his five runs at a mile came on heavy ground. Those runs are relevant here as the going may not be far off heavy but they aren’t poof that he isn’t effective at a mile. He’s won over this trip at Group 2 level in the past so he’s clearly capable of winning this sort of race at this distance but it backs up the suspicion that the ground will be too soft for him.

Regal Reality was an impressive winner last time out over this trip at Group 3 level (good to firm). That was in an 8 runner field which perhaps allays fears he doesn’t act in smaller fields (he does have a poor record when there are 7 or fewer runners). All his wins outside of maiden company have been on good to firm ground though and whilst he’s placed on softer ground it’s worth noting that his only defeat from four runs at Group 3 level came on soft ground. The ground is the main reason to oppose Regal Reality but the fact he’s not won above Group 3 level in eight attempts is also a concern for his backers.

That leaves us with Century Dream and Sir Busker. Century Dream looks extremely solid based on Instant Expert so let’s see if he has any limitations. He’s never run at Goodwood but there is nothing in his profile that suggests he won’t handle the course. Possibly the best evidence we can get is to look at the Instant Expert for this race but from the sires’ perspectives.

Instant Expert Sire Data

Cape Cross’ offspring have run nine times at Goodwood in the past two years producing two winners. That might not seem a massive win ratio but it’s only bettered by Sire Prancelot (sire of Sir Busker) here and even then that’s by just 1%.

Let’s now look at Century Dreams’ defeats in Group company over a mile with cut in the ground. His two career unplaced efforts in these conditions came in an Ascot handicap on good to soft ground where perhaps it wasn’t quite soft enough for him and again at Ascot in a Group 1. In fact this horse has won just once from seven starts at Ascot (33% strike rate elsewhere) so it might not be his ideal course, for all he is Group 1 placed there on soft ground. Away from Ascot his only defeat over mile on softish ground was a 2nd in a listed race at Newmarket.

It would be hard to argue that Century Dream isn’t good enough to win this Group 2. His only run so far at this level was a 4th in the Summer Mile at Ascot on unsuitable good to firm ground. He has won both his starts at Group 3 level comfortably and has previously got within ¾ of a length of Roaring Lion in the QEII stakes at Ascot (possibly not his favourite track).

Can Sir Busker defeat him? He’s been a rapid improver this season, going up 19lbs in just 5 runs and he’s still relatively unexposed at this distance. He was slightly unlucky not to win a competitive handicap last time out off 107 so could easily yet rate higher than his current mark of 111 which leaves him just 4lbs to find on Century Dream. Sir Busker was 2nd here as a 2yo, won a low grade handicap here as a 3yo and his only unplaced effort at this course was in the Golden Mile two starts ago when getting no run on the rail whatsoever.

The main concern with Sir Busker would be his ability to handle small fields. He’s a real hold up performer who needs a decent pace to aim at so it stands to reason he’d generally be better in bigger fields. He has won in 8 and 9 runner fields, albeit off much lower marks in handicaps, but was outpaced in several smaller field races last year (often at shorter trips than this).

The key here to Sir Busker is going to be the early pace.

Celebration Mile Pace Map

Benbatl is likely to lead with Century Dream well placed just off him. It doesn’t look like there will be a strong pace which could inconvenience Sir Busker. If Benbatl ends up being withdrawn because of the ground then there is likely to be an even slower gallop and that pushes things more in the favour of Century Dream and less in the favour of Sir Busker.

They say ‘class horses go on any ground’ but the evidence in this race is that several of these are going to find conditions (not just the ground) against them. Century Dream seems to have everything going for him and Sir Busker is not far behind.

I wouldn’t put anyone off either of these runners who are available at 11/2 and 9/1 respectively at the time of writing. Unfortunately with just 7 runners each way betting is far less attractive. However it could be worth maximising the value from this race by backing both Century Dream and Sir Busker in a reverse forecast.

Trainer No Brainers: The Very Best At York And The Ebor Festival

The racing at York is going to be extremely competitive this week, especially if you are a fan of handicap betting like myself. Rather than trying to pinpoint the single winner of a race (which is going to be very difficult in most cases) it may be more helpful to attempt to narrow the fields down to shortlists of runners that should go well.

After showcasing Roger Charlton’s record in class 2 Newbury handicaps on Saturday I’m going to once again concentrate largely on course records and meeting records here...

First let's see the 20 trainers with the best win percentage (left) and P&L (right) at York since 2009:

We can get more specific again by looking at trainer records in just August since 2009 to see their records at this meeting:

To summarise the above information, the following trainers are of particular interest at York in general:

Charlie Fellowes
William Haggas
Dean Ivory
David Griffiths
Ron Harris
Hugo Palmer
Michael Dods
Mick Hammond
Hughie Morrison
Paul Midgely

And the trainers to pay particular attention to in handicaps at the Ebor Festival are:

Tim Easterby*
Michael Dods*
John Best
Brian Ellison
Nigel Tinkler
Hughie Morrison
Hugo Palmer*
Eve Johnson Houghton
Tony Martin*

Those marked with an * have 3 or more wins to their name so could be more reliable.

So now let’s look at the handicaps over the first two days of the Ebor Festival and see where these trainers have entries:

Wednesday

1.45pm - 5.5f

Michael Dods - Jawwaal
William Haggas - Aplomb
Tim Easterby - Hyperfocus & Copper Knight

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Jawwaal is unbeaten this season and his success at Doncaster on seasonal debut has been well advertised since. He was well drawn when winning at Ascot and has been hit with an 8lb rise in the weights.

Aplomb may find this 5.5f trip perfect having shown decent form over 5f and 6f this season but he’d want some rain to be seen at his absolute best.

The problem with both those runners is the pace bias at York which tends to favour those up with the pace, especially at shorter distances. Tim Easterby’s pair are both likely to be near the pace. Hyperfocus ran only on Sunday and is well handicapped but he’s another who would want a fair bit of rain. If that rain doesn’t arrive Copper Knight could be the most interesting of the quartet. He hasn’t been at his absolute best this season but he hasn’t been running badly either and he’s won four of his eleven starts here, including one off this mark.

3.45pm - 2m

John Best - Eddystone Rock

He has run poorly in both starts this season but is now 1lb lower than when winning this last year. He’s two from three here and the only defeat was a sixth placed finish in the John Smiths Cup in 2017. This looks a hot renewal of this race but if the return to the Knavesmire sparks a return to form he’s capable of going well at a nice price.

4.20pm - 5f

William Haggas - Dancin Inthestreet & Pink Sands
Nigel Tinkler - Princess Power

Dancin Inthestreet is undoubtedly a well handicapped horse on several bits of form this season but her run style is definitely going to mean she’ll have to be very handicapped to win this.

Pink Sands is likely to be much closer to the pace and has never run a bad race. She’ll probably appreciate the return to a more speed favouring track and after just four starts, we have almost certainly not seen the best of her.

Princess Power ran below par on Tuesday at Beverley and may end up a non runner here. She often runs well in defeat but probably wouldn’t be favoured by this speed test.

4.50pm - 6f

Nigel Tinkler - Cobweb Corner
Eve Johnson Houghton - Soldier Lions & The Princes Poet

Cobweb Corner ran well in a similar type of contest last time out and should be near the speed but this is almost certainly tougher than his last race so he’ll have to improve.

Soldier Lions has been 2nd on both starts this season but the form of his last race has had a few knocks. The Princes Poet also seems to have a lot to find but there are so many unknowns in a race of this nature that it wouldn’t be a shock if something suddenly improves.

Thursday

2.45pm - 1m

William Haggas - Montatham

This looks a really hot contest but Montatham is still improving and hopefully there will be enough juice in the ground for him to run after he was withdrawn from the Golden Mile at Goodwood due to fast ground.

Low draws are favoured over this distance so stall 2 is a positive and after this last win at Sandown the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 7th have all come out and won since.

4.20pm - 7f

William Haggas - Mayaas

Improved on his 2nd start at Ascot, looking very much as if a step up in trip to this 7f would suit. He beat Minzaal that day who has come out and won impressively at Salisbury (well fancied for Friday’s Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes).

4.50pm - 7f

William Haggas - Lawahed
Tim Easterby - Excellent Times
Charlie Fellowes - Lady Of Aran

Lawahed is likely to be a warm favourite here on what could be a good day for William Haggas. She’s well bred and group 1 entered and clearly expected to be better than a rating of 85. That rating is more than deserved from her 3 starts so far but she won’t get an easy lead like last time.

Excellent Times won this at 66/1 last year which will have strongly contributed to Tim Easterby’s P&L in handicaps at this fixture. Has largely struggled since but has run well in three out of five course starts.

Lady Or Aran doesn’t always find as much as looks likely and is probably more consistent on the all weather. She doesn’t look brilliantly handicapped.

Friday

1.45pm - 1m4f

Tim Easterby - Dark Jedi

4.15pm - 1m2.5f

William Haggas - First Kingdom

4.50pm - 1m

William Haggas - Grand Rock & Cold Front & Johan
Michael Dods - Brunch

Saturday

2.25pm - 1m6f

William Haggas - Favorite Moon & A Star Above
Hughie Morrison - Kipps
Hugo Palmer - Eastern Sheriff
Tim Easterby - Fishable

3.40pm - 1m6f

William Haggas - Pablo Escobar & Monica Sheriff
Charlie Fellowes - Jeremiah
Tim Easterby - Glencadam Glory

4.40pm - 1m2.5f

William Haggas - Sinjaari
Tim Easterby - Aasheq
Mick Hammond - Irv

5.10 - 5f

Tim Easterby - Sunday Sovereign

It is by no means a sure thing that the selected trainers are the most likely winners of the races above but they have been amongst those with the best previous records at the course and at this meeting so it will be interesting to see how they get on.

It's a shame that more of the highlighted trainers haven't had runners here this year but we'll hopefully see them with entries at the remaining York fixtures this season.

Trainer Stats Point To Tempus In Mile Handicap

The mile handicap at Newbury staged at 2.25pm on Saturday looks a relatively solvable puzzle with 10 runners set to go to post and plenty of reliable form on offer.

There are some top trainers represented here so let’s see how they have performed in Newbury handicaps over the past 5 years:

Trainer record in Newbury handicaps for trainers represented in this race

As you can see, William Haggas and Roger Charlton not only stand out from a win percentage perspective (30.91% and 26.67% respectively) but they are also the top trainers with representatives in this race when it comes to P&L (48.63 and 22.38 respectively). They are the only two of these trainers to have been profitable to follow blindly in handicaps.

Looking at class 2 handicaps specifically now:

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Trainer record at Newbury in class 2 handicaps

Roger Charlton now jumps ahead of William Haggas with a 38.46% strike rate which is almost 3 times as strong as that of Haggas. Charlton is the only one of these trainers producing a profit in class 2 handicaps at Newbury and a very healthy profit at that (31 win profit).

The data is a bit more limited here but it certainly seems Roger Charlton is sending his better handicappers to Newbury whereas Haggas is mopping up some of the lower grade handicaps.

Let’s take a look at the runners from the Haggas and Charlton yards in this race. William Haggas runs Jahbath whilst Roger Charlton saddles Tempus.

Jahbath is 4 from 5 on the all weather and 0 from 2 on turf but that doesn’t tell the whole story. His turf runs have bookended his career to date with his debut effort coming at Salisbury in a race where he only narrowly lost out to Clara Peeters who would go on to rate in the high 80s. He was conceding experience and 6lbs on that day so it was clearly a strong effort.

His most recent turf run came after a 476 day break and although beaten more than 5 lengths, he was a creditable enough 4th on soft ground at Haydock over this one mile trip. How much he’ll improve with that run under his belt on slightly better ground is difficult to gauge.

Tempus hasn’t run for 302 days which is an unknown so it’s worth comparing Roger Charlton’s record with fresh horses in handicaps with his overall handicap record.

Roger Charlton's record in handicaps since 2009 with runners returning from a 60+ day break

Roger Charlton's record in handicaps since 2009 with all runners

 

Since 2009 Roger Charlton has had 294 handicap runners returning from a 60+ day break and they have produced a 16.67% win rate and a 50.18 win P&L. Comparing that to all his handicap runners in this time, the strike rate is slightly improved at 17.95% but the P&L is –48.43. The market is clearly underestimating Roger Charlton horses after a break. It’s worth noting of course that a 302 day break is pretty extreme and the horse has obviously had some issues keeping him off the track.

Tempus has only had one run in handicap company and that was a slightly disappointing 4th, beaten 1.5 lengths at Wolverhampton over their extended mile. He had previously beaten Lyndon B, subsequently rated 97, giving that horse 6lbs. Given Tempus only has a mark of 91 it’s probably a fair assumption that the most recent run wasn’t his best form and whatever issue caused him to miss 10 months of racing probably affected him during that race.

Roger Charlton’s record in Newbury handicaps, and Newbury class 2 handicaps in particular, are quite enlightening. The fact that the market seems to be offering value on his runners after a break adds confidence to the feeling that Tempus might be underestimated here. His most recent turf effort, in testing conditions, suggests he is well handicapped and he could take all the beating in this race on Saturday afternoon, which is live on ITV Racing.

Weekend Racing Preview: Scorching Pace Likely In 7f Handicap

It might not be a vintage day of racing on Saturday but there are plenty of competitive handicaps to get stuck into. One of the more interesting races of the day, which unfortunately won’t be on terrestrial television, is the 7f handicap at Haydock being run at 3.50pm.

Haydock is well known for receiving plenty of rainfall so there is fairly limited data available for handicaps of this field size run on the forecast good to firm ground. When there is limited data the PRB (percentage of rivals beaten) is particularly useful. There isn’t a whole lot in it but it seems preferable to be drawn low or high rather than in the middle over 7f on fast ground at Haydock. Just 15.63% of placed runners have come from the middle third of the draw.

As far as pace advantage over this course and distance is concerned, on fast ground we are again dealing with slightly limited data but it seems anywhere but prominent is ideal for win purposes. Prominent racers have yielded zero winners from 24 runs in qualifying races. The best place to be positioned could be mid division with a level stakes profit of £3.50 for those runners. It’s worth bearing in mind though that win ratios can be misleading with limited data and when looking at the place data for the same qualifying races it’s actually very even and slightly favours those ridden prominently.

Haydock 7f Good to Firm Pace Stats

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One of the best features of Geegeez Gold is the ability to compare both pace and draw simultaneously. The draw pace heat map (using PRB data) for races of these conditions again backs up the assumption that middle draws are less favourable and that a high draw might be more favourable than low unless you are likely to be held up in the rear, in which case low is better than high.

Haydock draw heat map

With no strong data regarding pace advantage it’s best to concentrate on how each individual race is likely to be run and that’s what makes this race more interesting than many on Saturday.

Haydock 7f pace map

With three possible front runners here we are likely to see contested speed and that should swing things in favour of those held up in mid division or the rear. That leaves the entirety of the remaining field with no recognised prominent racers. As previously discussed those drawn in the middle could be seen at a disadvantage which would be bad news for Irreverent, Young Fire, Dutch Decoy and Arbalet, who are drawn 5,6,7 and 8 respectively.

Indian Creak form

Indian Creak's run at Sandown has produced a 0% subsequent win ratio and just a 25% place ratio.

Of those drawn lower, War Glory is drawn lowest of all but has only won once in 30 attempts on turf and probably needs a stiffer test. Indian Creak is drawn in stall 2 but has been well enough beaten in both starts this season and whilst his 7th in a 7f handicap last month at Sandown might look okay form on first inspection, the Geegeez future form display tells us that 11 runners have come out of that race and all been beaten since. Cold Stare completes the low drawn runner list who should be ridden with patience but all his form is on soft ground.

So what about those drawn higher? The remaining runners are Triggered (drawn 9) and Northernpowerhouse (drawn 10). Triggered is likely to be held up in the rear and based on the data we have he would probably have been better off with a low draw assuming the same tactics are used again. He hasn’t been seen to best effect this season and is stepping up to 7f for the first time. He’ll need to improve for the trip to figure but on the way he runs that’s very possible.

Northernpowerhouse seems to have plenty in his favour with a high draw and a fast pace forecast. He is generally held up in mid division rather than right at the rear of the field so has an ideal draw on that basis. He seemed to improve over the winter on the all weather and was clearly not expected to transfer that improvement to turf when sent off a relatively unconsidered 22/1, despite being a last time out winner, at Redcar in June. He proved those odds wrong though with a narrow win. That wasn’t the strongest of contests in hindsight but many of his races have worked out well, particularly his most recent all weather win where he beat five runners who would win on one of their next two starts.

Last time out Northernpowerhouse was beaten 8.5 lengths but he was badly squeezed up on that occasion and whilst he wasn’t going well enough to win that day, he may well have reached the placings. The faster ground here may also be in his favour.

Stewards’ Cup 2020 Preview: Recent Evidence Suggests Low Means Go

The Stewards’ Cup is one of those races that many punters will file under ‘impossible’ each year but as is often the case, Geegeez Gold can be used to narrow down the field significantly and highlight the best angles.

Low or High Draws In This Cavalry Charge?

As usual, pace and draw are going to be key here. Statistically speaking a low draw has been a huge advantage in 16+ runner 6f handicaps at Goodwood run on good to firm ground.

Goodwood Stewards' Cup Draw

Nine of the last thirteen qualifying races have been won by horses running from the lowest third of the draw whilst the middle and high draws have accounted for just two winners each. These win figures are backed up by place and PRB (percentage of rivals beaten) figures, admittedly less comprehensively, suggesting that we really want to concentrate on low drawn runners here.

Digging deeper into the exact stalls successful runners have emerged from; stall 1 has been most successful with three winners whilst stalls 1-6 have provided nine of the thirteen winners from qualifying contests, despite stall 2 contributing none of those wins.

Detailed Goodwood Draw Stats

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Relying on win figures only can sometimes be misleading, especially with small samples, so let’s look at the places. Again, the low stalls have dominated with thirty-three of the fifty-two placings going to horses drawn stall 12 or lower and twenty-three of those coming from the lowest seven stalls. Stall 1 has not only been most successful in terms of wins (three), it’s also seen the joint most placings alongside stall 3 (six).

So how well found are these low drawn winners and placers in the market? Nine stalls have produced an each way profit in these qualifying races and five of those were in the lowest seven stalls. Three of the four most profitable stalls were 7, 1 and 3, with stall 7 most profitable of all with an each way LSP of 20.75 and it’s interesting that all of that profit came from the place returns.

So to summarise, it’s not impossible to win from any draw (even stall 23 has a win) but it seems a big advantage for win and place purposes to be in the lowest seven stalls.

Extreme Rides Keep You Out Of Trouble

So what about pace?

Goodwood 6f Pace Stats

Backing front runners in qualifying races has been a profitable angle with an LSP of 3.00. The least profitable angle has been backing horses that race in mid division, they have produced an LSP of -72.00. This is likely to be down to those runners often being boxed in when the race develops with plenty of ground still to make up. Whereas those held up right at the back have more to do but get more options in choosing their path to progress. The place and draw heat map backs this up with most places coming from low drawn horses who either lead or are held up in the rear.

Stewards' Cup Pace Map

There is possible contested speed in this race.

Stewards' Cup 2020 Pace Map

The low drawn horses are likely to be led by Meraas, one of just two 3yos in the race . The classic generation have accounted for three of the last five winners of this race from just eleven runners and those winners all came from the lowest four stalls.

Aljady could take the higher drawn horses along. Meraas is drawn in stall 4 and his only defeat in four starts this season came on soft ground, which he certainly won’t encounter here. It’s worth noting that Call Me Ginger, who was 2nd to Meraas last time out, runs in the consolation race earlier in the card and a good run for him would be a strong pointer towards Meraas.

There are three runners drawn 7 or lower who are likely to be held up and they are Kimifive (1), Gulliver (3) and Venturous (7). Kimifive was 10th in this race last year off the same mark when drawn high, Gulliver was 6th last year from a low draw when rated 7lbs lower. Both will be ridden by talented claimers (Cieran Fallon and Angus Villiers respectively). Venturous ran in the consolation race last year and finished 2nd off a 4lb lower mark. His last two wins have come over 5f and he didn’t seem to quite see it out a year ago so could be vulnerable again for win purposes at least.

Hot Form Worth Following

Of the trio Kimifive appeals off the same mark as last year. His only run over this trip since last year’s race has worked out well when 2nd to Barbill.

Geegeez Future Form

The Geegeez Future Form indicator shows the 3rd and 4th have both won on their next starts whilst even the well beaten 5th, Sir Maximillian, ran very well in a tough York handicap up in trip. It’s worth noting that Barbill also runs in this race but he’s drawn in stall 21 which may compromise his chance.

Glorious Goodwood 2020: Day 4 Preview, Tips

To Friday, the fourth day of five at the Qatar Goodwood Festival - Glorious Goodwood to you and me. Goodwood Friday is one of those days in the calendar marked off on January 1st, along with Cheltenham week, Royal Ascot, and the Breeders' Cup, when I am planning to be at the track for the very best of what the sport has to offer.

But not this year, alas. This year, I - like everyone else - will be confined to the sofa for my Glorious viewing. No bad thing in the context of what's going on around the globe but, for all that it is a first world problem, they are days like these when I feel those invisible bars constraining my liberty. On...

1.10 TDN Australia Handicap (1m3f, Class 3 0-90, 3yo)

We commence with another of those inscrutable, to me at least, three-year-old handicaps. I'm trying to look to the form of races which are working out well, but this year's fractured programme means there are less of those. The ratings boys will have a better handle than me on this one so I'll largely leave it to them - Peter May's numbers, for example, scream Al Qaqaa, the eight length last day victor. A nine pound rise is unlikely to stop him if he is in the same mood here.

I was a fan of Celestran after his Yarmouth win but, for all that he's run well in defeat since, that race hasn't worked out as well as I expected it might. He's not one to give up on yet, however.

Possibly the most interesting, Al Qaqaa aside, is Summit Reach, trained by the wily and in-form 'Raif' Beckett. He made all to hack up in a mile event at Chelmsford which has worked out very well and, while he's failed to go gate to wire over this sort of distance twice since, he ought to have a squeak of stacking them up on this pace-favouring piste. Stall ten won't be an issue for him.

In truth, this is not a betting race for me.

1.45 Oak Tree Stakes (7f, Group 3, 3yo+ fillies & mares)

Low draws have dominated in the Oak Tree Stakes historically. Since 1997, the winner has been drawn 2,2,2,1,5,1,6,6,1,1,1,10,9,2,2,9,10,10,5,1,6,3,10

Put another way, the inside three stalls - after removing non-runners - have won 12 from 69 runners; the outside three stalls have won one from 69 runners. The heat map, which shows all similar races run over this course and distance since 2009, accentuates the point still further:

Invitational has to be of interest. She'd won two at seven furlongs - in slightly lower grade, granted - prior to patently failing to stay a mile on the stiff Ascot track behind Nazeef last time. Back to seven, with a favourable draw and front rank run style, 14/1 is too big.

One Master is in the one box and is a genuine Group 1 filly dropping into Group 3 company. She has a big class edge on Invitational but will need luck in running on this notoriously cambered course. If she gets a clear run she'll probably win.

A Group 3 winner over seven is Breathtaking Look whose draw in nine is acceptable and will be mitigated by a pace-tracking run style. She ran a bold race over six at Newmarket on her 2020 bow (second to July Stakes hero, Oxted) and was only just touched off in a York G3 last time, again over a furlong shorter. Seven is well within her compass as that Sceptre Stakes score last September attests so she ought to go well.

Charlie Appleby runs Althiqa, a Listed race winner in France last time and Godolphin have a second dart in the more exposed Final Song. Fourth in the 1000 Guineas, that one may not have appreciated the soft ground the last twice; even if that's right, however, she has stall 13 - unlucky for most at this range - to overcome.

Anna Nerium and the French filly Wasmya both have good draws if they're lucky in the run.

With a clear passage, One Master will be very hard to beat; but her run style does offer wagering hope that the race sets up for one kept out of trouble. I'll risk Invitational, in spite of her having to concede weight to the three-year-olds and ostensibly being as much as a stone 'wrong' with some of her peers. She'll be near the front, sees out seven well, and looked progressive prior to failing to stay last time.

2.15 Thoroughbred Stakes (1m, Group 3, 3yo)

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Just the five go to post for this Group 3, the four-and-a-half length Britannia Stakes winner, Khaloosy, being a shade of odds-on as I write. That was on soft, this will be good to firm; that was 22 runners and truly run, this will be five runners and potentially tactical; that was a handicap, this is a conditions race. He very well might still win.

Against him are a couple of uber-unexposed colts in My Oberon and Tilsit. The former won a York novice last time by six lengths, showing a ready turn of foot. That attribute could be valuable in a contest with no obvious pace angle and, with just two runs to his name thus far, he can progress again.

Tilsit has a similar profile: the second of his two runs to date was a 19 (nineteen!) length romp on the straight track at Newcastle. It's virtually impossible to quantify that in the context of this race except to say he's clearly a capable individual.

The other pair look a lot more exposed.

This is a very different test for Khaloosy and, as such, taking odds-on doesn't appeal. My Oberon looks the more likely of the other two last day wide margin scorers, and he's a sporting bet at bigger than 3/1.

2.45 Golden Mile Handicap (1m, Class 2, 3yo+)

The strongest draw bias race in the calendar just about: low draws have it, high draws do not. Recent winners of this race have been drawn 4,15,9,5,4,2,1,3,3,5,1,1,15,7,1,8,13,5,9,1,3,3,3

Backing the lowest three drawn horses in that time arbitrarily would have returned a profit at SP of 40.75 points.

Moreover, when the going has been good or faster, stalls 1-5 have been responsible for the winner in five of the last seven years, and the second in the two non-winning years.

Here's the pace/draw heat map for ALL handicap races over a mile at Goodwood on quick ground with 14+ runners. Good luck if you fancy Montatham: he'll be a mighty horse to win from there.

Mark Johnston won this in 2012, 2010, 2009, 2001 and 1997 but has had plenty beaten since his last success. He's triple-handed this time and has lucked in with the draw for two of them, the forward-going pair Vale Of Kent and Cardsharp.

Joe Fanning is likely to set the fractions on Vale Of Kent, who was second in the race last year off a seven pound lower mark. That, incredibly, was from stall 17 and he has trap 3 this time: he's a definite player with Goodwood form of 2142 including three big field spins and is generally available at 10/1.

Cardsharp has Will Buick steering and emerges from box five. He has yet to run at the track and looks more of a seven furlong horse.

The highly progressive Prompting is drawn in stall two and is favourite. For all that he won well last time that was in a Class 4 seven furlong handicap on the wide open expanses of the Knavesmire: he looks like he'll be ridden for luck in a better race over further and is therefore not exciting at the price. His trainer, David O'Meara, is in excellent form and he could still be competitive with a clear run.

Another who will come later and need to be commensurately lucky in transit is Sir Busker. He's been impressive this term at a mile and shaped as though needing those extra yards when just failing to get up over seven at Newmarket last time. Up another five pounds for that effort won't help but the 'capper has been struggling to keep tabs on William Knight's progressive four-year-old.

Almufti has the inside stall and a nine pound weight pull with Sir Busker on Ascot running two starts back. He, more than most, will need the splits to arrive but he remains playable for small money at 14/1, hard luck potential notwithstanding.

Mostly, though, I think Vale Of Kent looks likely to run his race and is attractive at 10/1 with extra places if you like.

3.15 King George Stakes (5f, Group 2, 3yo+)

This race is all about Battaash, who is a very very fast horse and oozes class. His price of 4/11 reflects the strong likelihood that he'll win so you'll need plenty of elevens to be prepared to risk them to get some fours.

I had a good bet on Liberty Beach to finish second to Battaash at Ascot where she got chinned on the line by Equilateral. She's since been beaten into second in a Listed race but she won the Molecomb here last year and the slightly easier finish looks more to her tastes. She's my idea of the second and 7/4 without Battaash is the bet if you don't just want to cheer the high class jolly's anticipated procession.

Glass Slippers looks like she will appreciate a bit more give in the ground and perhaps another tilt at the Abbaye is where we'll see her best this term. Al Raya might not be impossible but the rest, including the French runner Ken Colt, probably are just about.

3.45 Glorious Stakes (1m4f, Group 3, 4yo+)

Treacherous punting territory in spite of just seven lining up. The last winner at a double figure price was in 2001 so I'll use that as an excuse to overlook Le Don De Vie, Spirit Of Appin and, reluctantly, Thundering Blue.

That leaves a quartet at 5/1 or shorter headed by Communique, a horse who has forgotten how to win a touch. In fairness, he's been second three times since a Group 2 score in July last year, and was only a half length behind Eagles By Day over arguably a trip too far last time.

Desert Encounter has won absolute bundles - over a million quid, in fact - from his globetrotting exploits and he added another 57 'bags' (bag of sand = grand) when nicking this under a typically late Jamie Spencer ride last term. At around 3/1 he's a less appealing price this time than the 15/2 he returned then, but his case is more obvious. Jim Crowley takes over from Jamie.

Alounak is another to have acquired more than just air miles from his world tour, aggregating better than £330,000 to date. Alas, that was pretty much exclusively for his previous, German, trainer. Andrew Balding has managed 'just' the £30k with the son of Camelot in three spins to date, but he nearly stole the show in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot last month. A capable fellow on his day, he's another who usually runs well in defeat.

That's a comment which can be applied to the 2-from-13 Pablo Escobarr also, though one of his brace was achieved in a maiden race here. This is a different level of difficulty and not one about which I'm excited for his chance.

Thundering Blue was such a devil a couple of seasons back putting his trainer, David Menuisier, on the map. He ran mostly flat last term, however, and it remains to be seen how much affection for the task the now seven-year-old retains. Likeable old sausage, all the same.

This is the sort of race where one arrives at a wager by a process of elimination. All have been serial non-winners in recent times with the exception of the reigning champ, Desert Encounter. He's very far from bombproof but is less unreliable than his rivals and gets the nod on that basis!

4.20 Nursery Handicap (6f, Class 2, 2yo)

I just don't know. Maybe Rooster or Perotti, both off the track for a month and more, both expected capable of better after the break, both representing respected Goodwood trainers. Next.

4.55 Fillies' Maiden (6f, Class 4, 2yo)

The bar beckons.

**

And that's Friday's somewhat truncated preview. I hope you don't mind me skipping the last pair: you shouldn't because I genuinely have no idea on those - even more so than the 30-odd races which preceded them this week!

As is customary, I will leave you to your own devices on Saturday and wish you well. And, as is customary, you may be very grateful of that come the time...

Many thanks for reading this week, and I hope you've both enjoyed the sport and perhaps found a nicely-priced winner or two.

Matt

p.s. There will be a crowd at Goodwood on Saturday. It will be the first occasion since mid-March that racegoers have been permitted to indulge their passion on site and, in these nervous tentative times, that feels like a small win. Let us hope that the macro situation allows for this to become our 'new normal', as there are plenty of racecourses up and down the land who rarely get more than the ceiling 5000 in attendance. In other words, they might get back somewhere close to business as usual, which will be good for all of us one way or another.

Baby steps, but on and up.

Glorious Goodwood 2020: Day 3 Preview, Tips

And so to Day Three, Thursday, at Glorious Goodwood 2020. In the preview that follows I'll offer the usual thoughts and tips, with the standard caveats emptor in situ. The feature race of the day is the Group 1 Nassau Stakes for fillies and mares over a distance of a mile and a quarter.

We start shortly after one o'clock, the first race being the...

1.10 Mirabeau En Provence Handicap (5f, Class 3 0-95, 3yo)

Some nippy three-year-olds do battle in the opener, a few of them in form, too. Somewhat unusually, five of the nine declared are fillies.

The pace looks set to be contested between, primarily, Glamorous Anna and Electric Ladyland, two of that filly quintet, and they may be joined by a third, Hand On My Heart.

It is Hand On My Heart that is of most interest of the early speed: she ought to be able to get a nice tow into the race, allowing for the fact that she is drawn on the outside and will have to tack across. The Clive Cox-trained Iffraaj filly makes her handicap debut here for a handler who boasts a 19% strike rate with 'cap debs in the past two years. Jockey Adam Kirby has a fine record at Goodwood and when riding for Cox.

Hand On My Heart does have to show that she's trained on, however: her form has tailed off - albeit in higher grade - since a debut win in a quite valuable fillies' stakes at Windsor last June. Three runs since, all in Class 1, have offered little hope.

Of the boys, 3/1 Bal Mal is on a hot streak having won his last four and five of his last six. The key has been the drop to five furlongs, where his record is unblemished thus far:

This mission is tougher again, of course, but the 'Then What?' figures on the right hand side tell us that his form is working out well enough. He ought to bid boldly for a sixth straight win at the minimum. He, too, should get a prominent early position and, from stall two, looks the most likely winner.

1.45 Unibet Handicap (1m2f, Class 2, 3yo)

A second three-year-olds only handicap, this time at ten furlongs. In what is a very trappy encounter, it looks a case of Mark Johnston versus the unexposed brigade. The winner of this race is normally rated 90+, as 15 of the last 17 were. However, I suspect the average OR in the race this term is slightly lower as a result of there having been less opportunities to advance a mark that far.

On that basis, I'm going to risk opposing the exposed Johnston pair in favour of less exposed, potentially more progressive rivals.

Johnston's Zabeel Champion is hardly exposed, with three wins from five starts, but he has shown more of his hand than many. Al Salt for example has won his last two of three career starts, none of them on turf, and represents a trainer - William Haggas - with a 25% strike rate first time in a handicap, as this lad is.

Roger Varian brings the only twice-raced Magnetised, narrowly beaten last time but recording a big Racing Post Rating. He steps up two furlongs in trip and improvement is likely rather than possible.

John Gosden has Magical Morning, another stepping up from a mile on this fifth career start. He was beaten on good to soft last time having won twice on good to firm previously. That shouldn't have been the decisive factor, but the extra range here might eke out more.

Plenty more improvers up and down the card, including Celtic Art whose father and son training team of Paul and Oliver Cole have won with three of their six handicap debutants so far this season. David Probert rides the top weight, who has already been second and first on these slopes.

And Oisin Murphy, the champion jockey, jumps on Starcat, a horse thought good enough to contest the 2000 Guineas two back and who may have resented the soft ground in Ascot's Britannia Stakes last time. Of course, an alternative theory is that he simply hasn't trained on; but I have sufficient respect for his trainer, Hughie Morrison, to note this one at a price.

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It's a very difficult puzzle indeed.

2.15 Richmond Stakes (6f, Group 2, 2yo)

It is hard to know what to make of a seven-runner Group 2 where the top three in the betting were all beaten last time out, and two of them were out of the frame...

Favourite Yazaman has at least improved as he's gone up in class from race to race, with his second to Tactical in the G2 July Stakes reading well in this company. He led there as they got to the hill so this easier track could help him.

Mark Johnston trains Qaader for owner of the season, Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum: this son of Night Of Thunder got closest to the 150/1 Coventry Stakes boilover, Nando Parrado, but was then three lengths behind Yazaman. There's no obvious reason he should reverse placings.

Further back in the Coventry was Admiral Nelson, who was never travelling there. Obviously the O'Brien/Moore/Coolmore connection has always to be respected but their two-from-eight record in this came 18 years apart. Both were similarly lesser lights in the yard's hierarchy, however.

Clive Cox saddles Supremacy, who stepped forward from first to second start and made all to win well in a minor event at Windsor 24 days ago. The sectionals tell us that he was able to quicken off the reasonable gallop he'd set there and nothing laid a glove on him. This is much harder but he deserves his place.

Gussy Mac did well to win the five furlong Listed National Stakes at Sandown last time and has now won his last two of three. He's trained by Roger Teal, who is a whizz with sprinters as evidenced both by the brilliant win of Oxted in the Group 1 July Cup and his two-year statistics:

This extra furlong looks right for him now and he is one of the few that still look progressive for all that it may be too early to write some of his rivals off. He'd be a super postscript to Oxted's G1 success.

Lauded ran a similarly mediocre race to Admiral Nelson in the Coventry so, while any horse can be forgiven one poor run, he only had one good run previously and I don't really see why he should reverse with Qaader either.

This seems quite a disappointing turnout for a Group 2. Yazaman might appreciate the easier test after Newmarket, and Qaader is the main player bidding to salvage the Coventry form; but perhaps 8/1 Gussy Mac is the value against those who have already tried and failed at Group level. Supremacy is another of more interest at the prices than the black type losers atop the market.

2.45 Gordon Stakes (1m4f, Group 3, 3yo)

Historically a trial for the St Leger and a benefit for Sir Michael Stoute, whose seven wins since 2001 will not be added to in 2020 as he is unrepresented. If the Richmond Stakes has a disappointing looking level of quality, the Goodwood beaks will be buoyed by the presence of four Derby runners in this renewal of the Gordon Stakes, including the second and the fourth.

The 2020 Derby has its place in infamy now as a race where the leaders appeared to steal it; Khalifa Sat had the cat-bird seat throughout and maintained it to the finish behind wide margin victor, Serpentine. The cavalry arrived too late with both English King and Mogul promising more than they delivered.

But were they as unlucky as they looked? Whilst the answer to that is "probably", this re-run between the three - and also the not-really-ever-in-it Highland Chief - will at the very least fuel the fire of those who have a strong view on the matter.

English King performed best of the closers and had previously delivered the best audition in the Lingfield Derby Trial. He is short in the market here but deservedly so in my view.

Khalifa Sat will have his supporters: he's a two-time scorer here including in the Listed Cocked Hat Stakes, and bettered that form when running up in the Derby. He has the chance to show he's been under-rated in some quarters.

Meanwhile, Mogul's juvenile reputation has yet to be vindicated on the track in this campaign. For all that excuses can be made for his two 2020 efforts, they've both been underwhelming and he has to prove he's trained on.

The one who brings unequivocal form to the table is Al Aasy, who followed up a mile and a half novice stakes win with a victory in the 1m5f Group 3 Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket three weeks ago. Both of those wins were with give in the ground, however, leaving the suspicion that this sharper track on a quicker lawn might not play to his obvious stamina strengths.

Mark Johnston runs the tough and consistent Subjectivist who, along with Khalifa Sat, may set the pace. It's never a surprise when a Johnston runner wins at Goodwood but this one would rate a disappointment if he was to lower the colours of the Derby form.

English King is the logical play here, but he's very short at around 6/4. I really like Al Aasy but not for this gig: he'd be interesting ante post for the St Leger if finishing well in defeat. Mogul has plenty to prove for me, so 9/2  Khalifa Sat might be a smidge of value. But it's a race I'll likely be watching without wagering.

 3.15 Nassau Stakes (1m2f, Group 1, 3yo+ fillies and mares)

The feature race of the day, and a line up long on quality if a trifle short on quantity. Such is life this season with so many big races squished together after the resumption. Far better this way than any other, in my view.

Last year's shock winner Deirdre bids to double up. Now six, the Japanese raider was well beaten on her prep run last term and reprised that type of rehearsal in the Eclipse 25 days ago. This will have been the plan with an easy ten furlongs looking optimal; but there could be a lot less pace in the race this year than last, where she came with a devastating burst late on. Her form behind Magical looks pretty solid in the context of this field - in the context of most fields, in truth - and she sets a good standard.

But she's not favourite. That honour goes to Donnacha O'Brien's Fancy Blue. Donnacha, following in brother Joseph's footsteps as a son of Aiden to move from riding into training, won the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) last time with this filly having been second in the Irish 1000 Guineas the time before. Regular readers will be bored to tears by now of me decrying the value of French form but, again, the Diane featured three Irish runners in a field of eleven where the remainder were domestic fillies. The Irish finished 1-2-3. It's a desperate state of affairs across La Manche currently.

That's a verbose way of saying I'm against Fancy Blue - certainly at the prices. Both Alpine Star and Peaceful - mile Group 1 winners this season - may not have got home, and the rest were French. Fancy Blue can win, duh, but she's short enough.

Between Donnacha's and Deirdre in the betting lists is the wildly progressive John Gosden inmate, Nazeef. Only third on debut, she's rattled off six straight wins since, most recently in a Group 2 at Royal Ascot and then the Group 1 Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket. She fits here on ability, then, but all of her winning has been achieved at up to a mile to this point: the step up to ten furlongs is not out of the question on either pedigree - out of a Dubawi mare - or performance (she tends to lead late in her races hinting that she might go further), but it is an unknown. The perceived absence of a strong early tempo would be in her favour.

Magic Wand is a legitimate Group 2 filly and, in this strange year, there are plenty of Group 1's to be snaffled with such a type. But not this one, I don't think. She finished just in front of Deirdre at Sandown and also in the Irish Champion Stakes last September, but I have the feeling that this is Deirdre's seasonal target whereas Magic Wand is expected to attempt to produce many more rabbits from hats yet.

I'd be struggling to make a cohesive case for any of Queen Power, One Voice and Lavender's Blue, although this trip is likely to suit all three better than the shorter ranges over which they were beaten last time.

A cracking race in prospect, but perhaps a tactical one. That slightly puts me off Deirdre, though I respect her chance greatly; and I instead favour the 11/4 about Nazeef who, if she does have suspect stamina on the step up in trip, may find that mitigated by the combination of the easier track and the projected steady pace. She's bidding for a seven-timer and might just develop into a champion we've yet to recognise.

3.45 Nursery Handicap (7f, Class 2, 2yo)

Impossible stuff here as eleven of the dozen runners make their handicap bows. Messrs Johnston and Hannon have won plenty of these down the years, normally with a fancied runner. Johnston's pair are at double figure odds as I write, while one of Hannon's brace is 6/1 Running Back.

He was a (well beaten) second to Qaader, who runs in the Richmond Stakes earlier on the card, on debut; then only just seen off in a Kempton novice. Both of those races were six furlongs and this extra eighth looks right for a son of Muhaarar. I'm totally guessing, of course, but if I had to draw one of these in a sweepstake I'd be happy enough with this fellow. Oh, and he's in Qatari ownership, which may suggest this has been the target all along given their overall sponsorship of the meeting.

Good luck if you're playing. I doubt I will be.

4.20 Fillies' Maiden (7f, Class 2, 2yo)

Moving on...

4.55 Tatler Nursery Handicap (5f, Class 2, 2yo)

Another guess up, this time though we have horses that have mostly raced over this minimum distance. It's a new race and an interesting one, which is not to say that I have any iota regarding who might win. In this clueless spirit, I will offer two.

Nigel Tinkler's squad were pretty slow out of the traps after resumption but have warmed up a little in recent weeks. He saddles 13/2 Acklam Express, who improved from first to second start to win readily at Hamilton 18 days ago. His trainer doesn't saddle many at Goodwood: in fact, this will be only the third Tinkler runner at the track in the last five years. The other two finished second and first, the winner coming in a nursery handicap.

The other is 15/2 Different Face, whose Yarmouth second to Yazaman may look very good - or pretty moderate - after the Richmond Stakes. He made all on his only subsequent start in an average Lingfield novice, and his trainer is in white hot form just now, as you can see below. Crisford also has an excellent record with handicap debutants, though I'd read less into that in a race where they're virtually all squeezing into that overcrowded train carriage.

The favourite, and odds on at time of writing, is Winter Power. Trained by Tim Easterby he put two bronze medal finishes behind him when lashing home by five lengths in a Redcar nursery on Monday. He carries just the six pounds penalty here prior to reassessment and was clearly put in too low by the handicapper ahead of that assignment. Unless you like risking more than your potential reward in fields full of unexposed types, the better question to answer here might be which others have been underestimated by the assessor?

*

Good luck with your Day 3 Goodwood wagers. It's not easy - it's not supposed to be, I guess - but it does look terrific sport, and the Nassau Stakes is a very interesting, and high class, race indeed.

Matt

Glorious Goodwood 2020: Day 2 Preview, Tips

Day two of five, Wednesday, at the Qatar Goodwood Festival - Glorious Goodwood to you and me - and another septet of equine head-scratchers, chin-rubbers and brow-furrowers upon which to ruminate. As with Tuesday we begin at 1.10pm, and as with Tuesday, we begin with a fillies' handicap, the...

1.10 British Stallion Studs EBF Fillies' Handicap (1m2f, Class 2 0-105, 3yo+)

Eight go to post on good ground for this first of seven on the afternoon. Three fillies represent the Classic generation, each in receipt of nine pounds of weight for age.

I've tried twice to find a way into this race, and I've failed both times. I don't want to deliberately mislead anyone, which I'd be in danger of doing, so we'll move swiftly on.

1.45 Unibet Goodwood Handicap (2m5f, Class 2 0-105, 3yo+)

An extended two and a half miles around the loop means traversing all of Goodwood's ups and downs, in some cases in both directions. It's a test of balance and stamina as well as requiring a hint of class. They don't bother with starting stalls so you need a horse that's not going to lose ten lengths at the tapes: even over this marathon trip a missed kick spells game over. My route into all Class 2 staying handicaps is Ian Williams.

In the last five years he's chiselled out a small starting price profit - and a much greater exchange or early price edge - as well as hitting plenty of placed runners (30%), as the image below articulates.

This race has gone to Williams on three occasions (2017, 2014, 2008) and he is double handed in the quest for a fourth Goodwood Stakes.

The Grand Visir won the Ascot Stakes (2m4f) last year and was second in the Queen Alexandra Stakes (2m6f) last month, so he loves Ascot and staying trips on the flat. This is not Ascot, however. He's up from 100 to 104 which might not be enough to stop him, though whether he has the same affection for this track I'm not sure. Still, he has plenty of ticks in boxes for a game like this.

Meanwhile, Blue Laureate is developing into a cliff horse for me: a lamentable effort in this year's Ascot Stakes was sandwiched between two close enough placed spins in Class 2 staying handicaps. His overall win record of 1 from 16 in flat handicaps is sub-optimal but I have to have him in my corner as he still looks well handicapped and is in the right hands. James Doyle takes over the driving today.

The likes of the admirable Coeur De Lion, as well as Oleg and Hollie Doyle, and Mark Johnston's Summer Moon will all have their supporters. But I'm siding with Ian Williams, at 9/1 and 16/1, a long-term EV+ play in these races.

2.15 Unibet Handicap (1m4f, Class 2 0-105, 3yo)

A three-year-old handicap over twelve furlongs where we're required to project on from what horses have already achieved - often over shorter trips - to today's challenge. Eleven runners but 6/1 the field tells you how tough this is.

One means of undertaking such projection is to look at how well races have worked out. Three runners catch the eye in that context.

The first of them is Mambo Nights, trained by Richard Hannon. He's won his last two, and before that was third in a Salisbury novice from which the runners have collectively raced 39 times since. They've managed to win 15 of those races (38%). Indeed, as you can see from the below (right hand side 'Then What?' section), ALL of his races have worked out well. He's bred for this trip, unexposed at it and no horse has got to within two lengths of him so far this season.

 

Although George Scott's form is not great just now - still time to turn that around - his Sarvan is also an improver whose form is panning out. See the image below, which shows not just how Sarvan's second to Spectrum Of Light looks well, but also (at the bottom) the excellent record of George Scott when placing a runner into a handicap for the first time. I alluded to the Scott/Curtis trainer/jockey combination on Tuesday; it appears again, as one of my three Report Angles, for this chap today.

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And thirdly Cozone, trained locally by Amanda Perrett, a lady who just loves a winner at Goodwood (I know, who doesn't?). We can see how well his non-winning pair of races in 2020 have unravelled in the ensuing weeks from 'Then What?' again and, in the extended view below, I've also inspected the trainer's and sire's performance.

To that end, we can see that Mrs P is in good form (note the place percentage of 40% in the past fortnight) but that she's struggled to get winners on the Sussex Downs in recent times for all that she has tried. If that's a knock, the breeding - by a Derby winner out of a mare bred from Dansili - offers hope. He might at least win the Fred Winter if failing here! (Whilst that may appear harsh, he has an excellent pedigree for that change of direction).

Of the rest, A Star Above may get a form boost from Au Clair De Lune, whom she beat last time, that one fancied (by me at least) in the last on Tuesday.

Yes, it's very trappy, but I will lean nervously in the direction of 9/1 Mambo Nights, who threatens plenty more at this trip and whose form is rock solid.

2.45 Molecomb Stakes (Group 3, 5f, 2yo)

A flying five for fast juveniles, the Molecomb has advertised the ability of the likes of Cotai Glory, Kachy, Havana Grey and Liberty Beach in recent years. This is all about speed.

The one I like most is Sardinia Sunset. Second in a hot early season novice, she then finished a fine fourth in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot. Dropped to Listed grade last time she made no mistake, scoring by a length. She has the highest Topspeed figure, the highest Racing Post Rating, the highest Peter May 'SR' figure, and is best in at the weights with her fillies' allowance. She was also fast enough to lead in her first two races yet tactically versatile enough to sit in behind when winning that Listed pot last time.

There are plenty of dangers, including Michael O'Callaghan's impressive debut scorer, Steel Bull. He was slowly away that day and, if breaking more alertly for the experience, will be a threat to all.

I'm not mad about Significantly, who has found one too good on each of his three starts and has recorded regressive time figures in the process; but Wings Of A Dove could conceivably take a step forward. Behind Sardinia Sunset in both that Newmarket novice and the Queen Mary, she showed up really well having fluffed the start behind Ubettabelieveit in the National Stakes at Sandown.

Army Of India reverts from a turning six on the all-weather to a straight turf five, the Mark Johnston-trained dual scorer having the pace to contest the running and the stamina to see out any burn up on the front end. He'd be far from a shock winner for all that he lacks the class of some of these.

9/2 Sardinia Sunset looks decent to me.

3.15 Sussex Stakes (Group 1, 1m, 3yo+)

What a race in prospect. What. A. Race.

This mile set-to includes the winners of the 2000 Guineas (Kameko), the Irish equivalent (Siskin), the Queen Anne Stakes (Circus Maximus), and the Summer Mile (Mohaather). Throw in Wichita, close third in the St James's Palace Stakes, and Vatican City, runner up behind Siskin at the Curragh - and San Donato, second to Mohaather - and we have a sumptuous serving of something special.

Stepping away from the individual ability of this septet to stare at some cold facts for a moment reveals that three-year-olds have won 13 of the last 21 renewals (62% of the winners, from 42% of the runners). That's a nod to how many three-year-olds are retired at the end of their Classic season as much as the weight for age allowance but, regardless of which you place greater store by, the fact is that the younger gang have historically had an advantage.

Favoured is the unbeaten Siskin, who did well to extricate himself from a pocket in the Irish 2000 and win by daylight. That looked unlikely for much of the race and is testament to the acceleration of Ger Lyons's colt, a son of First Defence. He travels well, has tactical speed and is unbeaten: what's not to like? Well, perhaps nothing; but maybe the fact that he was withdrawn from the Middle Park Stakes after getting extremely worked up in the stalls at Newmarket on his only trip outside Ireland.

That might just have been a freak, of course, but he is unlikely to truncate in price in the early yards of the race so, if you love him, it could be worth backing him once the gates have opened and he's shown himself to be focused on the job. There is a very good chance I'm over-analysing what happened at Newmarket, however.

More recently at the same Suffolk venue, Kameko came with a sustained run to score in the 2000 Guineas. While there was no fluke about that, the perception remains that he's a ten-furlong horse who got away with it on a stiff straight mile track. This easy turning mile just may test his speed too much and his stamina not enough.

Siskin's trainer is most afraid of Mohaather, the four-year-old Showcasing colt who bounded away from his rivals in an Ascot Group 2 on the round course at the Berkshire track last time. Steady early fractions made for a sprint finish and he proved much the best in that context. It was also steady early over the same track and trip - but on the straight course - when he couldn't cope with Circus Maximus's masterclass in front end control in the Queen Anne. Mohaather has yet to do it in Group 1 company - beaten five lengths on both occasions he's tried. While it is too early to say he cannot win a G1, he looks short enough even if there were credible excuses for both his defeats at the top table.

Circus Maximus re-engages here, having been a close second in this race last year. There, he gave best only late on to the excellent-on-his-day Too Darn Hot, and his overall CV is impressive, including Group 1 mile wins in the St James's Palace and Prix du Moulin as well as that Queen Anne score. He's tough and high class but probably does need to grind it out from the front; that makes him susceptible on a speed track like this.

His barn mates, Wichita and Vatican City, are not without hope. The former represents this year's St James's Palace form in the absence of Palace Pier and Pinatubo, small margins in front of him at Ascot. I presume he'll chase Circus Maximus's lead - it certainly doesn't make sense for them to take each other on. Previously a neck second to Kameko in the 2000 Guineas, he may reverse placings with that one on a track which, as mentioned, is more about speed.

Vatican City was another to suffer interference in the Irish 2000 but still did best of the rest behind Siskin. It's a stretch to suggest he'd have beaten the winner with a clear run, so I won't; and it is hard to find a reason why he should reverse form here, for all that there is not necessarily a huge amount between them.

The 25/1 outsider San Donato may outrun his odds without perhaps being good enough to make the frame. His winning form is at six furlongs so it's a fair shout that a mile on Ascot's uphill finish, even in a steadily run race, asked too much stamina-wise. This easier mile threatens to be just as much about speed as that Ascot Group 2 but a little less about stamina. He'll be held up for a late run and I'd be happy to take evens he doesn't finish last!

This is a great race but not an easy one from a betting perspective. To be frank, I don't really like any of them enough at the prices to bet. So I won't. So there. 🙂

Really looking forward to watching it, though, natch.

3.45 Alice Keppel Fillies' Conditions Stakes (Class 2, 5f, 2yo)

I'm not going to pretend I have a line on this race.

What I will say is that Jane Chapple-Hyam's unraced filly is interesting, a) because this is a deep end in which to lob an unraced filly, and b) because Jane has a very good five-year course record. She is also capable of saddling debut winners as the image below shows:

The red 14/30 imply that J C-H is in poor form; while no winners from 20 runners in the last 30 days is frustrating, a quarter of those have made the frame which is in line with her two-year place strike rate (see the 'All' row). In a race where the standard of opposition is not quite top class, there will be worse throwaway penny wagers than 33/1 Lady Amalthea this week.

4.20 Theo Fennell Handicap (7f, Class 3 0-95, 3yo+)

We close with a seven furlong handicap where as many as twenty runners line up. Seven furlongs is a draw bias trip, as we can see from the image below which displays 'percentage of rivals beaten' (PRB).

The PRB3 line - rolling three-stall average PRB - shows an almost linear relationship from low (very good) to high (dreadful).

The draw / run style heat map relates a similar tale. Low, and especially low and led, is the way to go.

Let's try to apply that information to the actual pace map for the race:

There's a bundle of pace on by the looks of it, so I'd want to be siding with a low drawn horse ridden for luck. They aren't drawn any lower than 1, from which stall Arigato (at around 17/2) will emerge. He's a seven furlong specialist, and maybe also a Newmarket specialist, but he has conditions and is in great form.

Dirty Rascal is 12/1, won the race last year and has stall four for his repeat bid. He's changed trainers, from Richard Hannon to Tom Ward, but not owners, and he runs off the exact same handicap mark as last year. His chance is obvious.

18 others who could play a part but draw is my kingmaker angle.

*

Good luck

Matt

Glorious Goodwood 2020: Day 1 Preview, Tips

In this week of this concertinaed and truncated whirlwind season in this topsy-turvy year, racing hosts its summer landmark Glorious Goodwood festival. Without crowds for the first four of five days, the final card on Saturday will welcome racegoers to a British track for the first time since mid-March. Hallelujah for that: on, and up.

To the racing and, for the first four days of Goodwood - the Qatar Goodwood Festival to give it its correct name - I'll be offering some daily thoughts on the action. Readers are advised to familiarise themselves with the content of this draw and pace article, both elements having a strong bearing on proceedings under certain conditions at the Sussex Downs venue.

I'm taking the chance that the going will be good on the opening day and, with a dry week forecast, tightening up to good to firm later in the week. Day One is Tuesday 28th July, and the feature race is the Goodwood Cup, a Group 1. But before that, and more briefly than is often the case, we commence at 1.10 with the...

1.10 EBF Fillies' Handicap (1m, Class 3 0-95, 3yo+)

A three-year-old-plus handicap where eight of the twelve declarations are of the Classic generation. They receive both an eight pound weight for age allowance and are generally open to more improvement, a double whammy against their elders.

John Gosden is in bamboozling form right now as the below image demonstrates, and he saddles handicap debutant Wasaayef. Gosden has struck at a 30% clip in the last two years with horses off a layoff, has a 23% win rate with 'cap debs, and currently boasts a 34% strike rate for the past fortnight.

A neck second to Queen Daenerys in a novice last September, she was spotting that one six pounds. The winner was fourth in the Oaks, and the third and fourth have both won since, so this is strong handicap form. Expect her to race handily, and she's available at around the 3/1 mark.

 

1.45 Unibet Handicap (1m2f, Class 2, 4yo+)

After the relative calm of a dozen fillies comes the storm of 18 older horses traversing the round course before clambering over each other and the camber (cambering over each other?) in the straight. Ten furlongs is the trip.

Four- and five-year-olds with at least a distance win have taken out 17 of the last 18 renewals of this race, according to Andy Newton's Goodwood Day 1 trends. Higher weights and multiple winners have had much the best of it so my shortlist is comprised of Sky Defender, Babbo's Boy, Derevo, and Alternative Fact.

Sky Defender is one of only two in the race for Mark Johnston - who took this pot in 2016, 2014, 2012, 2009, 2006 and 2000 - with the other being the better fancied but unproven at the distance, Maydanny.

Sky Defender has second top weight but also has the assistance of Joe Fanning, who rides this track for Johnston so well. Ignoring a last place finish at York last time, he won a Class 2 handicap at similarly quirky Epsom over this trip two back. His is a bold 'catch me if you can' style generally, and there are plenty of alternatives for the lead in a race thick with both quality and quantity. But very few riders have Fanning's ability to judge the fractions, making 28/1 tempting for very small money.

Babbo's Boy is interesting, too, and at 33/1 in a place. A Class 3 winner two back over ten furlongs, he ran poorly last time when upped in distance. With a liking for a bit of juice in the turf, any rain will help his cause and trainer Ralph Beckett calls up Rossa Ryan for the steering: they're 7/21 in the last year together (+15.87, A/E 1.88, IV 3.27)

Sir Michael Stoute offers Derevo for our consideration. A typically well-bred Juddmonte colt, he is both bound to improve for his seasonal bow and likely to improve for being a year older, Sir Michael being a master of patience. Derevo notched three wins from his five starts last term, though they were all in small fields. He could fare no better than a 12 length sixth in a 19-runner late season handicap at Newmarket which is a niggle. So, too, is his car park stall - 18 of 18 - and those two knocks mean he's not for me at single figure quotes.

The last of my trendy quartet is Alternative Fact: Ed Dunlop trains this one, an experienced three-time winner including once at ten furlongs. A hold up horse with a turn of pace he's interesting for all that he'll need plenty of fortune in transit.

All four are drawn 13 or wider, however, and that's a concern. In the circumstances, I'll be treading very carefully with Sky Defender and Babbo's Boy with as many extra places as I can get.

2.15 Veuve Clicquot Vintage Stakes (7f, Group 2, 2yo)

The first group race of the week and a strong favourite in the imperiously-bred Battleground. By War Front he's out of the superstar mare, Found, herself winner of an Arc and a Breeders' Cup Turf. The Naas maiden in which he was a two and a half length sixth on debut has worked out extremely well: as well as Battleground himself winning the Listed Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot, the ninth placed horse won the Group 2 Railway Stakes with the winner of the Naas maiden finishing second in that G2. Indeed, here's the Future Form view of selected runners from the maiden, with the bottom line P/L bottom right corner:

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I'm not inclined to try to speculate about the rest of the field, though I would say that the favourite has more scope to improve than many and already has better form than most/all of his rivals. Good ground won't be an issue and he ought to win, I think, albeit that 11/8 leaves little margin for error.

2.45 Lennox Stakes (7f, Group 2, 3yo+)

A seven furlong Group 2, and a good one at that. I always feel that seven furlongs is a specialist trip, especially when looking at top class races. Indeed, 17 of the last 20 winners of the Lennox Stakes were already seven-furlong winners.

Only six of those twenty victors also won last time out. Six more were beaten over a mile, though not beaten far; and the three winners who ran over six furlongs the time before were also all beaten at that shorter trip. Meanwhile, six of the eight winners who ran over seven furlongs last time won that race, too.

In other words, forgive a beaten horse if it was running over a different - potentially the wrong - trip; but demand that a horse which ran over this range last time won. Tragically, from my research perspective, that only eliminates the 33/1 poke Graignes on its first UK run for George Baker. Sigh.

Below is the UK/Ire form as depicted in Instant Expert, sorted by distance win percentage:

The seven-furlong specialists in the field are Space Blues, Safe Voyage and Sir Dancealot. Let's begin with the last named, winner of this race for the last two years and a 6/1 shot this time around. There are clearly no concerns about course or distance, nor about the ground. Those are his sole two visits to the course thus far. Last year Sir Dancealot came here off the back of a beating over a mile, and the year before he took the same route as this term: beaten in the six-furlong July Cup. He has won at 5/1 and 6/1 those two years and looks a very fair price again at 13/2.

Safe Voyage comes here having won the Surrey Stakes at Epsom over this trip. He was previously second to Space Blues, again over seven, at Haydock. He has some high class form at seven and a mile from last year but almost exclusively on deep ground. If the going was soft, he'd be my idea of the value; but it's not and he isn't, for all that he's clearly a talented lad who otherwise fits the profile.

The favourite is Godolphin's Space Blues, winner of the aforementioned Haydock Listed contest and most recently a Longchamp Group 3. In an eight-runner field over in France that last day, the two British horses finished 1-2, nodding once more to the dearth of talent in the French ranks currently. Frankly, whilst I've loved this fellow since he careened through a 19-runner York handicap field last May, his form thereafter is either below this level or has been achieved in that questionable Gallic context. It obviously won't be a shock if he wins, but I don't give an especially better chance to him than to Sir D who is twice his price and more.

Of the remainder, Duke Of Hazzard hasn't especially been looking like he wants a drop in trip from a mile though he's a dual Group winner here; Pierre Lapin has to bounce back from a horrible run in the Commonwealth Cup and proved he's trained on from a highly promising juvenile season; and the rest, with one possible exception, don't look good enough.

The possible exception is Glorious Journey. A G2 winner in Meydan in January, and then third at the uber-valuable Saudi Cup meeting in February, the Charlie Appleby-trained five-year-old was a neck second to Limato in a Newmarket Group 3 and the winner of a Newbury Group 2, both over this distance, last season. If he's recovered from his early year globetrotting exertions and is fit enough he'll have a hand to play. Those are quite a few if's for a horse at a single figure price, mind.

3.15 Goodwood Cup (2m, Group 1, 3yo+)

The feature of the day - arguably of the week - is the Group 1 Goodwood Cup. Seven go to post and it is 14/1 bar two, so ostensibly a match, a notion given greater substance with the fact that the third favourite, Nayef Road, was beaten ten lengths by the favourite, Stradivarius, last time.

Stradivarius is a win machine and the latest of a terrific line of staying champions. Because of their limited value at stud - National Hunt broodmares await - stayers tend to be kept in training for longer. As a result, we've seen the likes of Double Trigger, Yeats, and Persian Punch to name three return time and again to favoured haunts for their Cup jaunts.

But this lad Strad, recency bias acknowledged, might just be the pick of them. Such is his talent that talk of an Arc tilt at season end is not quite in the realms of fantasy (though it is still ambitious). For this gig, he has no peers, not from the older brigade anyway. The John Gosden inmate has won the last three renewals of the Goodwood Cup, has a gear change unrivalled among stayers and comes here off the back of arguably his most impressive performance thus far, when bashing up Nayef Road and co by at least one postal district.

But where there's an ointment there's usually a fly, and where the ointment is Gosden's it is usually Aidan O'Brien buzzing around the bottle; in this case with his progressive and weight-advantaged three-year-old Santiago. As a juvenile, Santiago was good enough to finish second to Alpine Star, subsequent Group 1 winner at a mile. He then won his maiden at that trip to round out last season.

This term, in two races just eight days apart, he won the Group 2 Queen's Vase over a mile and six at Ascot, flew back to Ireland, and took out the Group 1 (obvs) Irish Derby. Wow. The former race was on soft ground, the latter on good. Talented and versatile he might arguably have aimed at twelve furlong G1 glory rather than this two mile challenge; but getting a whacking great stone and a pound in weight for age makes him a formidable foe for the champ.

Here's how I expect this to play out: Nayef Road takes them along early in a bid to draw the sting, while the SAS - Santiago and Stradivarius - keep their powder dry marking each other from midfield. On the turn for home, the moves are made and the best turn of foot wins.

Aided by that chunky weight differential, I feel Santiago might just wrest the laurels from the old fiddler, Stradivarius. It's not a strong feeling, and I have ultimate respect for the champion; but he is vulnerable on these terms given the progression in the other lad, and the price disparity - 2/1 vs 8/13 - is greater in my view than it ought to be.

3.45 Qatar Handicap (Class 2, 5f, 4yo+)

A cracking sprint handicap and one where the rarely sighted "Possible Pace Collapse" prediction is in play...

True, it is sometimes the case that when races look like this, connections take heed and manage their runners accordingly; but here, the likes of Caspian Prince, Ornate and Acclaim The Nation don't really know another way to race regardless of the deliberations of their humans.

As such, for me, it sets up for either a more tactically versatile runner or a waited with type. As can be seen from the map, it might not be overly lazy to narrow consideration down to two: Well Done Fox and Celsius.

Well Done Fox is a two-time Listed scorer at the minimum and drops back to this trip after two efforts over six. Prior to that he ran a respectable, in the context of this handicap, race in the 5f Group 1 King's Stand Stakes, and was a decent fourth in the 5f Group 3 Palace House Stakes on his other run this term. He's not won for two years but nor has he faced a field of five furlong handicappers in his career before. The drop in trip, into a searing pace, might be just what he needs and 12/1 is fair each way value.

Celsius is just about favourite, and this looks an ideal setup for him, too. A winner in five of his eight five furlong handicaps, and second in two more, Tom Clover has trained this four-year-old to continuous improvement thus far. He is a regular tardy starter, however, and if he's not careful this better collective might be away and gone before he can catch them up. If he breaks alertly it will be a very good opportunity to further his winning ways at 7/2.

4.20 Maiden Stakes (6f, Class 2, 2yo)

Next...

4.55 Fillies' Handicap (1m 4f, Class 3 0-95, 3yo+)

A card book-ended by fillies' handicaps closes with this one over twelve furlongs. This time, seven of the dozen runners are from the Classic generation, and in receipt of eleven pounds weight for age. Unexposed, progressive and getting most of a stone. Yes, they lack the physical maturity of their elders in most cases, but the deck is stacked in their favour to my eye. This race, which I assume is the one introduced in 2013 for the late August meeting, has been won by a 3yo for the last six (of seven) years.

The relatively locally trained Asiaaf was a winner here two back. That was over ten furlongs, the Marcus Tregoning resident having run a solid second at Sandown since. Stepping up to this distance for the first time, improvement could be forthcoming though her pedigree (New Approach out of a Shamardal mare) doesn't scream as much.

One whose lineage does point to a mile and a half, and whose form profile has embroidered that implication, is 10/3 Dancing Approach. Trained by Roger Charlton, she's won her last two since being stepped up to this trip. By Camelot out of a New Approach mare, such races are the metier of the sire, as can be seen from the sire snippets:

We can also see from that snapshot that both trainer and jockey are in good recent form (the green 14 and 30 noting good form in the past 14 and 30 days respectively). This filly has an obvious chance.

Tulip Fields is another bred for this sort of job, and so too it seems is her trainer, Mark Johnston, who wins Glorious Goodwood handicaps for fun. She's a little more exposed than some, however, and my eye is drawn more to the George Scott-trained Au Clair De Lune.

By Sea The Stars, whose progeny have fared extremely well against this type of assignment - see below - she is out of Missunited, who herself was a winner here of the Group 3 Lillie Langtry Stakes on her final start. Raced in the same owner/breeder colours of Vanessa Hutch as her dam, she will have been primed for this target. Incidentally, her year older full brother, Eagles By Day, runs in the Goodwood Cup earlier on the card, another suggestion that there could be more to come from this filly.

As can also be seen below, the George Scott/Ben Curtis axis has been a potent one in the last twelve months. She's 11/2 and should run well.

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And that's a wrap for the opening day of the Qatar Goodwood Festival 2020. A slightly briefer overview and a few more Geegeez Gold components; hopefully one or both of those tweaks is to your personal tastes. Regardless, I'll be back with Wednesday's preview soon enough. I'd love for you to join me!

Oh, and do leave a comment below with your best value play(s) and your reasons why - share the knowledge 🙂

Good luck,

Matt

 

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 4 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 4 Preview, Trends, Tips

The fourth day of five at Royal Ascot, and the last for which I offer my tuppence worth; Friday's highlights include the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes, Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes and the headline Group 1 Commonwealth Cup. Yum!

Proceedings commence a little more humbly, however, with the...

1.15 Palace Of Holyroodhouse Handicap (5f, Class 2, 3yo)

Yet another special race this year to start us off is this five-furlong three-year-old handicap. Draw and pace could be material, the map of both looking like this:

One of the features of this big field is the amount of forward-going types, even in the context of a sprint over the minimum. So, whilst early pace might normally be a key to winning, I'll be looking for a horse to finish off through tiring rivals: the race could change complexion markedly in the last half furlong.

The favourite, and a strong favourite at that, is Art Power. The Kingpower-owned, Tim Easterby-trained runner has won his last two in sensational style and might just be superior to handicap grade. But he's 2/1 or so in a field of a score and more.

Around about him in the high numbers are a couple that may be able to give us a thrill at a more working person's price. Keep Busy won one of those slightly sub-par French minor pattern events last backend and has already had two races since the resumption; as such, she's more match fit than most. She didn't seem to get home over Newcastle's straight six but ran well in second in the Listed Scurry Stakes over Sandown's five last time. She's 16/1.

And in the highest stall of all is Mighty Spirit, trained by Richard Fahey and ridden by Megan Nicholls. This Acclamation filly held her form really well in making the first two six times from nine runs, including the Listed Marygate Stakes, last season. She also ran fine races when sixth of 25 in the Queen Mary and third of 24 in the Weatherby's Super Sprint. She's tough and consistent and has a bit of class. She's also an 16/1 chance.

One other to throw into the pot at a big price is Flippa The Strippa. Trained by Charlie 'Battaash' Hills, her form tailed off towards the end of last season, but she was good enough early on to win the Listed National Stakes at Sandown. If she's benefited from the break she will be finishing on the far side better than many and is available at 28/1.

There are eighteen I haven't mentioned.

It's a good sprint handicap is this, with Art Power the obvious one who might just be too good for them. If he's not, I'll take a chance with two drawn high in Mighty Spirit and Keep Busy.

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1.50 Albany Stakes (Group 3, 6f, 2yo fillies)

Six furlongs and two-year-old fillies, plenty of whom either won't get home or are not good enough. Wesley Ward's Flying Alaetha is the early favourite, but this turning five furlong dirt winner may not appreciate any rain. In any case it is impossible to quantify her form in the context of an Albany, though we know Ward is 0-for-10, just one placed, with seven of them sent off at single figure odds. Not for me.

Aidan O'Brien is only 1-for-15, though he has had four further placed runners. The winner, Brave Anna, was sent off at 16/1. APOB has had fillies beaten at 5/4, 11/8, 7/4, 2/1 twice and 5/2. Caution is therefore advised about Mother Earth, for all that the sins of her mothers should not necessarily be vested upon her.

Winners of this race have often come at prices, so it might pay to take a chance on something further down the lists. The one with form on the soft side is Golden Melody, trained by William Haggas and ridden by James Doyle. She won her sole start on Haydock's good to soft terrain, seeing off Star Of Emaraaty et al by more than two lengths. She is a natural for the shortlist having stretched away takingly there.

Mark Johnston won this two years ago with Main Edition, and he saddles Ventura Vision. Her sire, No Nay Never, has a fair record with soft ground two-year-olds running six furlongs; she can be expected to be a lot better under these conditions than a Chelmsford second might imply.

But perhaps the man to follow is Mick Channon. He of the windmill celebration of yesteryear has won three Albany Stakes and enjoyed another two placed runners from 16 sent to post. Thus, his entry Mahale commands respect. Only fourth on debut, she stayed on pretty well over five good to firm furlongs at Newmarket that day, a race which has already thrown three winners from four runners further back in the ruck. That great late work, allied to the extra furlong and her trainer's record makes 25/1 very interesting.

There are lots of other interesting candidates in a race where only the outsider has run more than once. But, given that half of the 18 Albany winners to date returned 10/1 or bigger, including 16/1 three times, 20/1 and 50/1, I'm playing 25/1 Mahale each way with four places. 8/1 Golden Melody may be the best value from the top shelf.

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2.25 Norfolk Stakes (Group 2, 5f, 2yo)

Another juvenile heat, this time the fast five of the Norfolk. If the Albany often goes to a price, this Group 2 has tended to be a top of the market affair, two-thirds of the winners since 1999 returning 6/1 or shorter. The race has been a platform for stallions such as Dutch Art, No Nay Never, Johannesburg and Approve, and perhaps another will promote his claims for the breeding sheds at this early career juncture.

This is a race in which Wes has gone well, with a pair of winners from seven starters. Likewise, Aidan, whose haul reads 3 from 20, 6 more placed, a run that started with the magnificent Johannesburg.

Favourite, and short enough at 6/4, is Eye Of Heaven. The Mark Johnston runner beat Get It - fourth in the Windsor Castle earlier in the week - on their respective debuts, and they had subsequent Windsor Castle winner Tactical behind them in third. It is fair to say that that was an above average novice. Eye Of Heaven did it comfortably enough there and probably deserves to be jolly in spite of ground conditions being potentially quite different here; whether you're excited by an offer close to evens is another question. I am not especially. It does mean that the rest are varying degrees of each way prices.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Wesley runs Golden Pal, a son of Uncle Mo who didn't get home over four-and-a-half furlongs on debut at Gulfstream; how he'll handle the straight five is up for grabs. Although Ward has a solid history in the race, his recent Royal Ascot record is less good: a seven-runner washout last year and just one from nine in 2018. He is eminently capable of delivering winners on this stage, but they're all plenty short enough against the recent macro.

Like Golden Pal, Aidan's runner, Lipizzaner is also an Uncle Mo child: he's found one too good on both starts to date, but has shown both ground versatility and the ability to deal with a big field. His trainer won the Norfolk in 2015 and 2017 and should be on the premises once more.

The Lir Jet looked very good when romping his debut at Yarmouth and has since been acquired by Qatar Racing. Still trained by Michael Bell, whose two previous Norfolk entries ran second and third, but as far back as 2003 and 2006, the Jet will have to cope with better opposition and softer turf; but he is very quick and he might just do it.

From a very small sample, the juvenile progeny of Due Diligence have done really well on softish ground and that is a nod to Jo Jo Rabbit, a four-length winner on his second and most recent start.

This is a race that revolves around Eye Of Heaven who could be very smart and may just win. But his price offers nothing to value players given how many unexposed and well-bred rivals square up. In that spirit, I'll take a chance that 6/1 The Lir Jet can handle these conditions, and will have a small each way stab at 14/1 Jo Jo Rabbit, whose trainer Archie Watson can ready a rapid juvie. Four places, more if you can find 'em!

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3.00 Hardwicke Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f, 4yo+)

A mile and a half Group 2 for older horses, and a race in which Sir Michael Stoute has a stranglehold: he's won no fewer than eight since 2006! Of course, that would be too easy... he doesn't have a runner this year!!

Mark Johnston is a four-time winner, though the last of that quartet was in 2005. He's only saddled four runners since, including Universal who was third in 2013. Communique was last a year ago. That one lines up again this time but it is his stablemate Elarqam who appeals more. That one, a Frankel half-brother to Maydanny, who ran earlier in the week, amongst others, just failed to peg back Lord North on his seasonal debut.

Lord North was a clear-cut victor in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes on Wednesday, beating Addeybb, who Elarqam had behind him when winning the York Stakes. In between times, he was third in the Group 1 Juddmonte International and, while stamina has to be taken on trust, his form looks as good as any in the field.

Last year's Derby winner, Anthony Van Dyck, is an obvious alternative. However, in six post-Epsom runs he's yet to revisit the winner's enclosure; and the fact that there was a mere three-quarters of a length covering the first five casts a further fog of doubt over the form. If that wasn't enough, he was also thumped in the King George over course and distance, though in his defence that may have come soon enough after two Derby efforts - he was runner up in the Irish Derby between Epsom and Ascot.

Defoe won this race last year, looking like a progressive horse in the process. Things haven't really panned out that way in three races since, however, including a further run over track and trip so he, too, has a little prove.

A winner over course and distance last October was Morando, and by six lengths, too, in a Group 3. This is a step up in grade with the ground likely to be a little less testing and he has a bit to find with an 'A game' Defoe on last year's Hardwicke form. That said, if it was very wet, he'd come into play.

Hamish steps into Group company for the first time, the William Haggas-trained four-year-old progressing through the handicap ranks last season. He needs to find nearly a stone with Elarqam.

Talking of progressive four-year-olds, Fanny Logan won a trio of Listed races last term, and then a Group 3 before running an excellent three-length fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita. She was patently given too much to do on her seasonal bow at Haydock and, bred for the trip, is more interesting than many in receipt of her gender allowance.

Of the monster prices, Alounak's overseas form - in any of Germany, Canada or America - would give him an outside chance of making the first four. Remember, the Hungarian Nagano Gold nearly took the whole enchilada in last year's race, failing by only a half length at whopper prices.

At the risk of egg on face for a second time this week, I'm against a Ballydoyle favourite. I much prefer 3/1 ELARQAM to Anthony Van Dyck and have backed him accordingly. 17/2 Fanny Logan is playable each way and the big swingers might try 50/1 Alounak.

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3.35 Commonwealth Cup (Group 1, 6f, 3yo)

This newish race, now in its sixth year, has been a hit from the get go. Winners like Muhaarar, Caravaggio and Advertise (pictured, top) have scorched the Ascot turf in dazzling victories.

Top rated this year is the filly Millisle on 115. She was sent off 4/1 for the 1000 Guineas but clearly didn't stay the trip and this looks much more appropriate. She raced exclusively at five and six furlongs last term, winning the Group 1 Cheveley Park amongst others. Sprinting is her game and, if the exertions of two trips across the Irish Sea for two races in a fortnight don't fatigue her, she is the one to beat. Her profile mimics that of last year's winner, Advertise, who put a non-staying Guineas run to bed in this.

Favoured is Pierre Lapin, unbeaten in two including a Group 2 at Newbury last September. He's been off for nine months, though most of Roger Varian's have been forward enough on their first run of the year. He has a few pounds to find with Millisle on form though clearly has scope to progress after just two spins.

Golden Horde had a few goes as a juvenile, winning the Group 2 Richmond Stakes at Goodwood and running close up behind Earthlight twice, including in the G1 Middle Park last backend. Again, fitness must be taken on trust.

Wesley Ward has brought the rapid filly Kimari across. She was a head second to Raffle Prize in the Queen Mary here last June and a staying on fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint in November. She opened her account over six furlongs in April and certainly has credentials to get involved: unlike many of Wesley's she settles well so Frankie will have every chance.

Lope Y Fernandez is another who comes from an abortive Guineas bid, this time in the Irish 2000 where he was a trouble-making third to Siskin. His sprint form was good last year though not quite at the level of a couple of these.

France is represented by Wooded, a six-furlong Group 3 winner last month. As you'll know if you've been reading these previews all week, I'm not a big fan of the French flat form just now, and am carpet opposing this colt on that basis. His form is at lower Group level anyway.

Remember when Mum's Tipple blitzkrieged his field by eleven lengths at York last year? He's been whacked twice since, most recently when not at all at the races in the 2000 Guineas, but a repeat of that effort on the Knavesmire would likely be just about enough.

This is another cracking serving of the Commonwealth Cup with lashings of speed and more than a little spice. I think it might go the way of the fillies and, to that end, I like both 7/1 Kimari and 11/1 Millisle to show the boys the way home.

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4.10 Queen's Vase (Group 2, 1m6f, 3yo)

A recognised St Leger trial these days but it arrives ahead of the Derby in this topsy-turvy 2020. In point of fact, the Queen's Vase has actually become a top class rehearsal for future Cup horses, with all of Estimate, Stradivarius, Leading Light and Kew Gardens prevailing since 2012. What a National Hunt stallion Stradivarius is going to make! 😉

Since 1998, three trainers have operated a near cartel on the Vase: Mark Johnston has recorded seven scores, Aidan O'Brien six, and Sir Michael Stoute four. SMS is unrepresented this season as, remarkably, is 'Always Trying' (to win the Queen's Vase). Thankfully, APOB runs a pair.

Santiago is the choice of Ryan Moore, the son of Authorized stepping up from a mile and looking bred to appreciate it. He'll need to, though, as his form to date is only average.

Frankie Dettori is enjoying plenty of Ballydoyle partnerships as a result of the Irish/overseas riders having to go through quarantine, and he's on Nobel Prize, a brother to Highland Reel, Idaho and Cape Of Good Hope. He, too, steps up from a mile and he, too, has a pedigree that screams improvement. Those siblings really catch the eye and I expect this fellow to be a player.

Born With Pride is the favourite, trained by William Haggas. He won a Listed race over a mile on heavy ground on his career debut, testament to the esteem within which he is presumed to be held. It must have been a little disappointing, then, that he could only trail home seventh of nine on his next and most recent run 16 days ago; though that lifetime bow augurs talent, he's not much of a price on the recovery trail.

Godolphin's Al Dabaran was beaten in two back end runs in France so, while my casual dismissal of such form lines is going to go bad at some point, he's readily overlooked for all that he is the highest rated in the field and has a nice staying pedigree. He's had more tries than many of his rivals and my guess is that some will improve past him for this far greater test of stamina.

Berkshire Rocco is really interesting. Trained by last year's winning handler, Andrew Balding, he comes here from the Lingfield Derby Trial, a route trodden by four Queen's Vase winners since 2002. None of that quartet ran better than second at Lingfield, the position Berkshire Rocco occupied behind English King, himself favourite in most lists for the Derby. Rocco was seven lengths and more ahead of the rest of the Derby Trial field.

The remainder make limited appeal.

A fascinating race as always, and one in which the top three in the market have won 19 of the last 23 renewals. There are five horses vying for favouritism, the best backed being Born With Pride, Santiago and Nobel Prize. The weakness of Berkshire Rocco does put me off and, because of that, I'm siding with Nobel Prize, who comes from an excellent family, looks certain to stay well, handles give, and gets Mr Ascot, Frankie Dettori, on top. He's 11/2 in a few places.

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4.40 Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m4f, 3yo+)

Friday ends with a big field mile and a half handicap. Keep in mind the weird draw bias against the low numbers. This PRB3 chart illustrates things clearly, with the dark blue line representing big fields, actual draw, and ground between good and soft.

Three trainers have impeccable records: Mark Johnston, Sir Michael Stoute and Hughie Morrison.

Now't from Stoute once more, and just a single arrow for Mark Johnston, the poorly-drawn (stall three) West End Charmer. A four-time winner last season, all in smallish fields, this is a different task from a tough post.

Durston also has an ostensibly poor draw in four, though he too has form credentials. He actually won over nearly two miles last year and that leads me to wonder whether he'll quite have the boot for this, especially if needing to thread a passage on the inside.

Hughie, whose Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes record is three winners from six runners - wow - saddles Le Don De Vie. Exiting from stall ten - plum - he has Ryan Moore booked for the steering job, not that I'm saying it will be a steering job, you understand! Don was a three-time winner last season on the undulations of Epsom (twice) and Goodwood. This more conventional track shouldn't pose a problem, nor should a nearer-front-than-back run style.

Hereby, a misser of the cut earlier in the week, gets in this time and bids to extend her winning sequence to five. Again this is a much bigger field but she had the speed to win around Chester and the stamina to score in Listed company over 1m6f on soft ground during that victory roll so she's not underestimated. Trap nine is workable, though the last single digit stall winner was in 2008.

Frankie and Johnny partner with El Misk, ideally housed in 15 and with a prominent racing style. He has, however, done all his winning - three of them - on all weather surfaces, and has earned joint top weight in that process. He won't shock if he wins but he's not for me at the price.

At a much bigger quote, Indianapolis can outrun his odds. A course and distance winner off 95 last summer, he is just four pounds higher here; he has a wide draw in 19 - last five winners drawn 12, 14, 19, 19, 21 - and represents a trainer, James Given, with a fine record in staying races in the past two years (five wins from 25 runs, four more placed, A/E 2.34, IV 1.85). Jockey Ben Curtis is hardly a negative.

Sixteen more with chances!

Obviously a head-scratcher of a chin-stroker of a brow-furrower of a puzzle. At the prices, always at the prices, I'm settling on 12/1 Le Don De Vie for Le Don de D(ukeofedinburghstakes), Hughie Morrison; and 33/1 Indianapolis for another shrewd outfit, extra places aforethought.

**

And that's that for this week. Saturday's eight race jamboree will be a case of every many and woman for themselves. It might well be the case that such news is a merciful outcome after four days of reading through my losers. Regardless of win or lose, the effort and thought poured in is always the same: sometimes we are made to look good, more often to look somewhere between daft and imbecilic. Such is the folly of publicly nominating gambling outcomes. Happily, you, dear reader, are cut from the kind of considered cloth that takes the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as part and parcel of racing's wagering fabric. Or, in plain English, you get it.

I very much hope you've got it - or at least got some of it - this week.

Good luck!

Matt

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 3 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 3 Preview, Trends, Tips

Humpback Day at Royal Ascot, perhaps better known as Gold Cup Day, and another seven head-scratchers for punters to unravel. The feature is the Group 1 for stayers and there is a trio of handicaps, and a similar number of minor pattern events, in support.

1.15 Golden Gates Handicap (1m2f, Class 2, 3yo)

Another of the 'for one year only' races gets us underwat, this time the ten furlong three-year-old Golden Gates Handicap, a boon for those too slow for the Brittania and lacking the stamina for the Duke Of Edinburgh. The Royal Ascot Ryanair if you will. There is not much in the way of draw and pace data to go on for fields of this size though what there is suggests a largely fair go for all.

With horses qualifying for a mark after just two runs at the moment there is even less to go on than your average early season three-year-old handicap. Regular readers will know that these events are a weakness for me so what follows will be mercifully brief:

Maori Knight has shown he can handle a little cut in the ground, and that he stays. He may try to lead from the front, which won't be easy but you'll at least get a run for your money at around 9/1.

And the 20/1 Yoshimi might be generous if there is any further rain. He stayed on nicely enough into third behind Palace Pier at Newcastle over a mile last time and is bred more for this trip.

Let's move on...

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1.50 Wolferton Stakes (Listed, 1m2f, 4yo+)

An immediate comparison with the preceding three-year-old handicap is offered by the Wolferton Stakes run 35 minutes later over the same course and distance. The Wolferton at least has a historical profile for all that it's morphed from a handicap (from inception in 2002) to a pattern race since 2018. Indeed, it was won last year by none other than Addeybb, subsequent dual Group 1 winner.

John Gosden has a peerless record in the Wolferton, winning it four times since 2011, and he is doubly represented, by Dubai Warrior and Crossed Baton. The latter, winner of the Listed Churchill Stakes on the Lingfield all weather last autumn, is the chosen mount of Frankie Dettori. Second in last year's course and distance Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes, he probably wouldn't want it too soft but has otherwise fair credentials.

Rab Havlin reunites with Dubai Warrior, on whom he won twice before Christmas including in this grade. Frankie rode the Warrior last time when he added a Group 3 to complete an all-weather hat-trick but he was well beaten on his only turf run, in a French Group 3.

Top rated is Regal Reality, whose 119 figure is deserving of Group 2 company if taken at face value. Third to Enable and Magical in last season's Group 1 Eclipse, he also wasn't beaten far in the G1 Juddmonte International. With both of those top level races being the same range as this Listed event, Regal Reality has outstanding form claims. His trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, has won this twice in the past, and yet his runner is only the third choice in the betting.

Favourite at time of writing (Tuesday afternoon) is Fox Tal, a four-year-old son of Sea The Stars trained by Andrew Balding. He's got form on all ground, was third in a Saint-Cloud Group 1 at the trip and has Silvestre driving. He's been off for eight months, though, and is short enough to my eye.

Sandwiched between the Fox and Reality, in market terms at least, is Sir Dragonet, runaway winner of last year's Chester Vase. He was then a very close fifth in the Derby before flattening out a little in two subsequent 2019 outings. He has had a livener this season, when second at Naas in late March, and is a definite contender.

The rest are 16/1 and bigger and, of  them, King Ottokar will handle give better than most, as he did when third in the Hampton Court Stakes last year. He becomes interesting given the weather..

I fear Sir D and Crossed Baton but I think Regal Reality's form looks very strong for the grade. If he's straight enough and if it hasn't got too wet, which it might have, for this 2020 debut he should be bang there, and 15/2 is playable.

If the rain has come in any quantity, King Ottokar is value on his Royal Ascot run last year at 16/1, 5 places with sky.

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2.25 Jersey Stakes (Group 3, 7f, 3yo)

Another slightly betwixt and between sort of race is the Jersey: since the six-furlong Commonwealth Cup emerged as a powerhouse Group 1 alongside the established mile races for the Classic generation, the Jersey perhaps finds itself a tad marooned. Nevertheless, it will welcome another fullish field in 2020 and remains solidly worthy of its Group 3 status.

Richard Fahey has won this twice from just five runners, Ribchester in 2016 and Space Traveller last year. As such, his Ventura Lightning is interesting. This will be the grey son of No Nay Never's first attempt beyond six furlongs and, out of an El Prado mare, there is scope for improvement. Ventura enjoyed a satisfactory warm up in the Group 3 Pavilion Stakes at Newcastle a fortnight ago which ought to have brought him to concert pitch. He's a general 20/1 chance.

The market is headed by the unbeaten-in-two Gosden/Dettori entry, King Leonidas, a son of Kingman out of a black type-winning Galileo mare: nice! He's laughed at his rivals in a brace of Newmarket novices, the form of the first of which has worked out poorly and the second of which has yet to be tested. He is clearly talented; his street smarts for a big-field class elevation have to be taken on trust.

Second choice Molatham can count a seven-furlong verdict over Wichita amongst his four career starts. Trained by Roger Varian for Sheikh Hamdan, and ridden by Jim Crowley, he perhaps didn't get home when trying a mile for the first time on his final run of last term; the drop back to seven looks right though he will have to overcome a 250-day layoff.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Aidan O'Brien runs the American Pharoah colt, Monarch Of Egypt, just six days after his midfield finish in the Irish 2000 Guineas. That was a terribly messy race and the Monarch had no run at all. His form did tail off a little last season after a couple of close finishes with Irish 2000 winner Siskin, a level that would put him in the photo if reproduced two grades lower here.

With cross-channel interloper Celestin the question is whether you believe his run behind Victor Ludorum in the French 2000 Guineas. If you do, he's probably the bet, the winner's form being just about bombproof. But with second favourite Ecrivain running no sort of race, and most of the rest behind him unfancied, it looks a little questionable. What we can say is that Celestin can quicken off steady fractions and handles softer ground.

2019 Gimcrack second, Lord Of The Lodge, steps up to seven for the first time. That form behind Threat stands comparison but this straight test will ask questions of a fairly pacy pedigree (though he does have Cape Cross as mum's dad).

The Richard Hughes-trained Mister Snowdon is quite interesting at a bit of a price. He is unbeaten in two runs, a feature of both being how he has quickened from off the pace to win going away. The most recent of the pair was at Yarmouth - another straight seven - and, while this is a big step up, I like that sectional profile. There are many others to consider in a hard to call affair.

Having a bet in here is somewhere on the brave-foolhardy continuum and you'll better understand towards which end you reside once the result has been established. There would be few complete surprise winners and, as such, it might be worth tilting at a couple of windmills. Monarch Of Egypt can go well, but I'll chance Mister Snowdon and Ventura Lightning for beer tokens only. [I recognise the general weakness of my fancies in these previews, but it needs to be understood that they are a devilish set of conundrums, most of which constitute some form of vanity punting. To come out in front we'll need to be very lucky as well as pretty good]

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3.00 Chesham Stakes (Listed, 7f, 2yo)

The longest two-year-old race of the week is the seven-furlong Chesham Stakes. While the distance may be the same as the preceding Jersey Stakes, comparison across age groups make little sense. Nine once-raced juveniles - seven colts, two fillies - go to post.

The Charlie Appleby-trained Shamardal colt Modern News looks a worthy favourite based on the form seen to date. He needed almost every inch of Newmarket's six furlongs to get by the leader on debut and, with his trainer having an astonishing 33% strike rate second time out, he'll take a lot of beating. The fact that a certain Pinatubo scored for the same connections last season should not be overlooked.

But, naturally, it's deeper than one horse. Ballydoyle are represented by Battleground in a race they've previously won four times, including in 2016 (with subsequent dual 2000 Guineas scorer, Churchill) and 2017. Battleground, like Churchill, arrives here off the back of a debut defeat; and, like Churchill, was allowed to find his stride on that opening day and finish off his race. The first son of the outstanding race mare Found, he is certain to be much better than he's shown so far.

The Andrew Balding-trained Bright Devil was something of a shock debut scorer, coming home at 25/1 that day, but with his handler having a 20% second time out record, the son of Dark Angel can be expected to show improved form (like pretty much all of them, to one degree or another). He made all last time, which will be a difficult challenge over seven furlongs here.

Mark Johnston trained the Chesham winner three times in four years at the turn of the century, but has had little luck since: he's nought from twenty since 2003, just three places. That run includes nine at a single figure price, one of them sent off at 5/4. Tentatively stepping out of that shadow is Golden Flame, a son of Golden Horn who ran second on debut at Haydock. A second season sire, Golden Horn didn't have his first winner until July last year, and those are enough reasons for me to oppose this fellow at this stage of his career.

First Prophet, trained by Charlie Fellowes, is a son of first season sire New Bay, himself second in the French 2000 Guineas, winner of the Prix du Jockey Club and Prix Niel and third in Golden Horn's Arc. His five runners in UK and Ireland to date have yielded two winners and a further place. Regardless of how First Prophet performs, and he'll likely find one or two too good, New Bay is a sire to keep on side, for now at least.

Richard Hannon has enough juveniles to know which are the best in the yard, and Concessions gets the nod here. Winner of a three-horse race at Chelmsford (Seattle Rock last) on his sole spin thus far, it is not easy to quantify that form in the context of a Chesham: the trainer's five previous runners in this were all sent off at big prices, four of them running creditably in fourth or fifth of double-digit fields.

Hannon also saddles the New Approach colt, Clarendon Cross, who was doing his best work at the finish over seven panels at Haydock (March Law fourth). Although he bungled the start there, he was still beaten nearly four lengths and he has more improvement to find than most of these.

All of this nonet will end up better than they've had the opportunity to display hitherto; but the balance of probabilities is that the Godolphin and Ballydoyle colts are the smartest. I will take my chance with the longer-priced of the pair, Battleground, who is bred to be very good and who is certain to be straight for this second day at school. 7/2 seems fair enough.

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3.35 Gold Cup (Group 1, 2m4f, 4yo+)

The Gold Cup has been the province of multiple winners, most recently and perhaps most famously being Yeats' four-timer between 2006 and 2009. With owner Bjorn Neilsen in no rush to make a National Hunt stallion of his pride and joy, Stradivarius returns for a third tilt at the most prestigious staying race in the flat calendar.

Now six, the son of Sea The Stars saw his ten-race winning streak ended by Kew Gardens in the mud here last October, going down by a nose in an epic tussle. He was also beaten on his first start of 2020, though that was far less of a surprise as he took on a legit twelve furlong Group 1 horse over that one's trip. As a trial for this main event, it was better than good. With the ground not likely to be a concern and the opposition a notch below last season most likely, the hat-trick bid is a probable not a possible.

Who, if any of them, might give Stradivarius a race? The key player could be Cross Counter, the finisher in last year's renewal. He got to inside two lengths of Frankie that day, staying on; and if he can get less revved up beforehand this time, might give the champ something to think about. But he failed to get past Stradivarius twice last term and there's no real reason why form should be reversed now.

Technician, in the same ownership as Chesham runner Bright Devil, was a good staying three-year-old last term now stepping up into Cup company. His best form is on soft ground, but the son of Mastercraftsman has a bit to prove stamina-wise for me.

It's 12/1 bar that trio with Nayef Road perhaps making most (but still limited) appeal of the remainder. He was close to the pace at Newcastle when running away in the last quarter mile to record a two-mile Group 3 score; but this is a challenge of an altogether different kind.

For Hail Mary players, the outsider of the field, Mekong, may run better than a 66/1 shot. He was a six length fourth in the Champions Long Distance Cup in which Stradivarius was beaten last October, having completely missed the break. Since then he's picked up over £400,000 in prize money without winning, almost all of it for a second placed effort in Saudi Arabia in February. He is a habitual slow starter but if he can concede less ground at the stalls, he may hit the frame at a whopping price.

Ultimately, this looks STRADIVARIUS' race to lose, and I don't think he will. I hope he wins, and I hope Mekong might offer some sort of a run at massive prices for tiny stakes in a race that looks all about the favourite.

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4.10 Britannia Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m, 3yo)

Two impossible straight mile three-year-old handicaps to close, this one being as difficult a race as you'll find at the meeting. Winners have come from across the track, from all sorts of price points and from a plethora of different trainers; so there's not much to cling to from the historical.

There are three tenuous angles which I'm going to deploy for shortlisting purposes, taken from Andy Newton's big race trends here, fully cognisant that the winner has likely been discarded. Those dodgy differentiators are:

- A previous winner at seven furlongs or a mile
- Did NOT win last time out
- Did place last time out (I've used top four)

That gives me six horses: Verboten, Cherokee Trail, Shared Belief, He's A Keeper, Grove Ferry, and Enemy

Enemy is favourite in some lists after just two career runs, a debut first and a subsequent second. Trained by John Gosden - whose debut winners are well worth following, as Jon Shenton highlighted here - Enemy found only Mister Snowdon too good in a Yarmouth novice 15 days ago. That one bids for Jersey Stakes glory earlier on the card so will offer a nod to the value of the form ahead of the Britannia.

Gosden has three further runners in the field, of which Verboten is both better fancied than Eshaasy and on the shortlist; Cherokee Trail also makes the shortlist. Verboten, a Godolphin runner, went from a Yarmouth novice to the Group 1 Vertem Futurity last year such, presumably, was the way he was working at home. He was only 8/1 in that G1 but ran down the field behind 2000 Guineas winner, Kameko. On his first run this campaign, he stayed on into a close fourth over seven furlongs at Lingfield (all weather, turning track). This is a stiffer stamina test for a pedigree that offers mixed messages - speed from No Nay Never, resolution from a High Chapparal mare. Frankie Dettori rides, Oisin Murphy getting first dibs on Enemy who is in the Qatar Racing ownership.

It is testament to the pulling power and the political ability of John Gosden that he can train horses for all of Qatar Racing, Godolphin, Sheikh Hamdan and Coolmore, and run them all in the same race! Cherokee Trail represents the last named firm, with Ryan Moore doing the steering. More experienced than his stablemates, this son of War Front (Galileo is nearly always in the dam's blood, if he is not the sire) drops back to handicap grade after three spins in pattern class. He'll obviously find it easier, has proven stamina and the best connections; but he might just be marooned a little in stall two, with the pace possibly coming down the middle. At least he should get a clear passage from there.

Gosden is a three-time Britannia Stakes winner, albeit from 34 runners, so he certainly knows what is required.

Shared Belief would be the first winner not to have run in the same calendar year since, I think, at least 1997, but of course there are mitigating circumstances in this truncated pandemic-affected season. A handicap debutant for Archie Watson - whose two-year record with such horses is 24% from 108 starters, whose layoff stats are 23% from 105 starters and whose 14-day form at time of writing is 30% from 33 starters - he won't be lacking for preparation!

Since a seven furlong soft ground maiden win this time last year, Shared Belief has been highly tried in a trio of pattern races, most recently running behind Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes winner, Pyledriver. He has a middle draw, a 'get on with it' run style and is a 40/1 shot.

He's A Keeper is the same price, and in truth I find it harder to make his case. Beaten five lengths and more in his last three starts, he has at least had a spin this season, but I'm not sure he'll stay a mile in what ought to be a truly run affair.

More credible, perhaps, is Grove Ferry. Progressive last term, winning twice in novice company before finishing one place ahead of Verboten in their respective 2020 pipe openers. Team Balding was flying at that time, though so too was Team Gosden, and this son of Excelebration has a high draw and a waited-with style of racing. He is ridden by David Probert, in the geegeez 'lucky pants', so fingers crossed.

As ever, there are bundles more with fine prospects that I've failed to mention.

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4.40 Sandringham Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m, 3yo fillies)

For a fillies' version of the Britannia, this is typically a top of the market affair. Or was until recently. Three years ago, Con Te Partiro won at 20/1 for Wesley Ward, and was tipped in this preview. (I know, it was probably the last winner I flagged, hoo hoo hoo). And last year, 33/1 Thanks Be - not tipped here, or many other places for that matter - got the whole enchilada for Hayley Turner and Charlie Fellowes in that controversial finish. Second was a 7/1 chance who really should have been awarded the race. 19 of the preceding 20 winners had returned 12/1 or shorter, as did the 2018 victor.

It is not typically a race in which to be too cute.

What could be less cute than a 7/4 favourite in a field of 18? Step forward, African Dream. Johnny G's thrice-raced filly was a close second to Stylistique just a week ago, that one bringing genuine Group 2 form to the table. A mark of 80, when her nose vanquisher is rated 106, underscores the 'well in' factor, and she is ideally berthed in 14 with a patient run style and pace around her. If the race doesn't come too soon, she'll probably win.

Because Kieran O'Neill keeps the ride on the favourite (good job, well played connections), Frankie must 'settle' for Dubai Love, a 101-rated Nottingham maiden winner. She was beaten on her sole subsequent start, when trying to make all over a mile at Kempton, and she wouldn't be obviously well treated, particularly not in comparison with her barn mate.

Sir Michael Stoute saddles the twice-raced Soffika. A daughter of Zoffany out of a Sakhee mare, she's bred for middle distances for all that she's yet to win beyond three-quarters of a mile. However, that doesn't really tell her tale: she was a keeping on second in the Group 3 Sweet Solera Stakes over seven at Newmarket last summer and can be expected to progress as most of her trainer's projects do.

At bigger prices, the Richard Spencer-trained Odyssey Girl has been super consistent, running in the frame in her last five races. She is more experienced than her rivals and has performed well in big field sales races. She might outrun her 25/1 odds.

And perhaps Al Rasmah is better than she was able to show in a tactical race last time. She finished best of the seven at Haydock (one mile) and will be delivered late by Andrea Atzeni here.

There are some nice fillies in this field but it is rare that we see a horse so potentially well treated as AFRICAN DREAM. A literal interpretation of her run a week ago makes her almost two stone ahead of the handicapper!

**

Good luck!

Matt

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 2 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 2 Preview, Trends, Tips

The second of five days of this alternative Royal Ascot experience sees another septet of top class tussles up for grabs. The feature of the day is undoubtedly the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes, where Japan takes on Headman, Barney Roy, Addeybb and more. We are also treated to the first juvenile race of the week, the 20-runner Windsor Castle Stakes; but matters commence with this year's customary huge field handicap, this time it is the...

1.15 Silver Royal Hunt Cup Handicap (1m, Class 2, 3yo+)

The Royal Hunt Cup is so impossible that they decided to duplicate it with this consolation version. Two dozen 90-odd rated handicappers hurtling up the full Ascot straight is a sight to behold, but it's a devilish wagering ask. Thank heavens for extra places with at least five up for grabs with most firms and six with a few.

The aim of the game is probably to find a hold up horse that loves a big field straight mile. That would bring in Sir Busker, Home Before Dusk, Red Bond, Ouzo, and Maydanny, all of whom have good straight mile-winning form, many of whom have done it in big fields.

Sir Busker, as top weight, was the last to miss the main cut. He's trained by William Knight, who is enjoying a great time of it since moving to Newmarket; and was a winner 15 days ago at Newcastle over a similarly straight mile, albeit on the synthetic surface. A winner of four, and placed in four more, of his 15 starts, he knows how to get the job done. With a middle to high draw and a hold up run style, Oisin Murphy will try to swoop late.

Keith Dalgleish saddles not one, not two, but three runners, with two of them being ridden by geegeez-sponsored jockeys. Of course, the best profile fit is the third string to Dalgleish's bow, Home Before Dusk, who has made a habit of finishing best at Gosforth Park, progressing from a mark of 58 this time last year to his current perch of 96.

Callum Rodriguez has been on board for the most recent three of six wins but jumps across to Red Bond this time for the Middleham Park Racing mob. He, too, is progressive, stepping forward from 75 to 92 in the space of four runs. He's likely to be close to the speed and that makes him susceptible to the massed ranks of later runners.

Rounding out the Dalgleish triumvirate is the David Probert-ridden Universal Gleam. Stall one should ensure he gets a run, assuming they come down the middle, and he'll be delivered late. He is another straight track mile winner and I'll be cheering him without necessarily wagering him, a truism whenever one of the geegeez riders is steering.

Back to the shortlist, and the remaining pair on that sheet are the top two in the market, Ouzo and Maydanny. Ouzo has good form on the Newmarket straight and ran a taking trial for this ten days back, getting collared late on. Ryan Moore retains what is an eye-catching partnership.

Well supported in recent days is Maydanny, about whom the the fancy prices are now gone. It is not hard to see why: this 1.35 million guinea yearling is a son of Dubawi out of the brilliant filly, Attraction, herself a winner of five Group 1's. With just three starts to his name, the four-year-old has clearly had his challenges but he laughed at a field of solid if unspectacular Class 4 handicappers a fortnight ago, coming away for a facile four length score. There's a really good chance he's a fair bit better than his current mark of 90.

Clearly a very trappy race and I'll be trying to get one into the first three, the bizarre requirement this week for placepot purposes even in 24-runner handicaps like this. Maydanny might just about still be backable at around 7/1 and I'll also take 12/1 Sir Busker to be in my corner.

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1.50 Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3, 1m2f, 3yo)

A ten furlong heat for those staying on in the 2000 Guineas but probably not good enough for the Derby and those rising up through the ranks. Its roll of honour is good but not great with every likelihood of that being the prevailing perception post-race.

Favourite is Her Majesty's First Receiver. For the first time, as I understand it, in 67 years, The Queen will not be at Royal Ascot though she will doubtless be cheering this easy last day victor up the straight as though she was in her customary vantage high in the stands. That Kempton romp is hard to contextualise but First Receiver's trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, has won this race three times since 2009 so that's a clue. Mind you, Stoutey (if I might be so bold) has run 22 horses in this down the years which somewhat dilutes the still considerable merit of his achievement.

I was more taken with the effort of Juan Elcano last time when that one was a four length fifth in the 2000 Guineas. This represents a notable step back in grade which, allied to the extra quarter mile in trip, ought to see him go close if the exertions of a Classic run just 11 days ago have not left their mark.

Aidan O'Brien runs two, the better fancied of the pair being Derrinstown Derby Trial second Russian Emperor, a rare runner from the yard in non-Coolmore colours. In fact, as with all of the Ballydoyle horses it is a partnership, this time with Laurie Macri. Getting back to the horse, he was given plenty to do in a tactical race at Leopardstown that last day, finishing best but failing by a half length to reel in stablemate, Cormorant. You might say that the bird had flown. (sigh)

Eight days later and here he is in what may become another tactical affair, though Ryan Moore will have a match fit partner where Seamie perhaps was minded to tighten the bolts a little. That's all doublespeak for he'll be on his A game here and there will be no excuses.

Berlin Tango scored in Listed company under David Probert at Kempton last time, a beneficiary of trainer Andrew Balding's white hot form at the resumption. He's a progressive colt and showed a ready turn of foot about a quarter mile out which won him the race. He still has to show that his turf form is up to that level, however, and Oisin Murphy takes over from David.

Some way behind Juan Elcano at Newmarket was Kenzai Warrior, who completely fluffed the start. Whilst he is likely better than the bare form, I'm not sure the step up in trip is what he needs, or indeed whether he's good enough anyway. [We all know what happens now...]

Ralph Beckett's Zoffany colt, Mascat, looked to be crying out for the extra range after only just inhaling the leaders in a mile maiden at HQ last time. This is a leap and bound forward in class terms but he has reasonable credentials on both pedigree and form - he was second to the much-vaunted Palace Pier on his only other career start.

This is one of those races where I haven't really got a clue and, in that absence of idea, I tend to swing wildly for penny change. 20/1 Mascat is the horse to fit my requirements though he clearly has to improve some to get to the established level of some of these, and then a bit more to out-improve those other improvers, if you see what I mean. 7/2 Russian Emperor and 11/4 Juan Elcano are much more obvious, though commensurately shorter-priced, alternatives. But, it bears repeating, I have less of a clue than normal here.

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2.25 King George V Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m 4f, 3yo)

Your first 30 days for just £1

The curious case of the mile and a half draw bias against low-drawn horses. It really does defy convention, except that perhaps those drawn low are either too far forward if they're quick at the gate, or stuck in a pocket if they're tardily away. Either way, the data bear out this counter-intuitive snippet which is a key to hoping to unravel a conundrum such as the King George V Stakes.

Here's a picture which shows the three-stall rolling average of percentage of rivals beaten (or PRB3 for short). 50% is the mid-point - where runners from a stall have beaten as many others as have beaten them - so north of 55% is a good figure and south of 45% is the converse.

The blue line is the filtered data - in this case good/firm to good going, 16+ runners, actual draw (accounting for non-runners) - which shows the poor record of inside boxes. As can be seen from the pink line, that disadvantage is regardless of going. We're dealing with small samples here so the usual caveat emptor applies, and one should note that horses from stalls three and six have won a race each; but those two scores are from 119 to exit logical (i.e. removing non-runners) traps seven or lower.

After all that, I'm sorry to report that the shortest-priced low drawn horse is 10/1 Kings Caper in stall five.

What else do we have to conjure with? Trainer Mark Johnston has saddled five winners but from 58 runners (-£8.50 at SP), Aidan O'Brien saddled his first winner last term from 14 starters to date, and Sir Michael Stoute is the king of the King George V with four winners and another seven placed from 28 starters.

Sir Michael, of course, is empty-handed this term, as is Aidan; but 'Always Trying' runs a quartet, three of which are drawn 1, 2 and 5. History says that may make life difficult; his fourth strand is Subjectivist from stall 15 and with Ryan Moore booked to ride. He drops from minor pattern company into a handicap for the first time, his open race form mixing it with the likes of Juan Elcano, Mohican Heights and Pyledriver, all of whom take on loftier pots this week. 25/1 may understate his prospects.

The favourite is Kipps, trained by Hughie Morrison and ridden by David Probert. This lightly-raced War Command colt is well thought of and was narrowly denied close home on his seasonal debut ten days ago. Ideally berthed in stall twelve he has an obvious chance for a trainer with a quietly impressive Royal Ascot record (7/76, 14 further places, +£17 at SP, which improves to 6/49, 15 further places, +£23 in handicaps only). Morrison has had two from five placed in this race and I obviously hope Kipps wins. But I can't back him at 4/1.

The Yarmouth race in which Bodyline was a strong-finishing second looks certain to work out well and Sir Mark Prescott's Australia colt ought to improve for the extra distance. Stall 17 is almost too wide, however, and tempers enthusiasm a touch.

John Gosden has had just one winner, from 18 runners (three more placed), in the King George V Stakes, but To Nathaniel has fair prospects of doubling his victory tally. No prizes for guessing his dad's name with stamina also imbued from the dam line, Sea The Stars being his maternal grandfather. To Nathaniel is unbeaten in two seven-runner lower-grade handicaps since stepping up to this sort of trip and since being fitted with cheek pieces. He can progress again.

Arthurian Fable is somehow still a maiden after just failing to get up on his fourth and most recent start. That was at ten furlongs, this is twelve, and the Brian Meehan yard are enjoying a good little spell. Jockey Martin Dwyer will, like all the car park lads (and the lass Hollie Doyle), need to negotiate a ground-saving passage; if he can, his mount could break his duck on the big stage.

There are lots more with chances, a universal truth in Royal Ascot handicaps.

Jeez, it's trappy. Better to be lucky than good, as they say, so I'm rolling the dice with 25/1 Subjectivist and 14/1 Arthurian Fable, for sticky bun stakes.

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3.00 Prince Of Wales's Stakes (Group 1, 1m2f, 4yo+)

The highlight of the day is the Group 1 mile and a quarter Prince of Wales's Stakes for older horses. Locking horns in a field where quality usurps quantity are the recent winners of Group or Grade 1's in Britain, France, Dubai and Australia.

Market leader at coin toss odds is Japan, third in the Derby, fourth in the Arc and a three-time winner in between, including the Prix du Jockey Club (1m4f) and the Juddmonte International at York over this trip. His form is the best in the race and he's likely to have strengthened up from three to four; but connections might just have an autumn campaign on their minds. I also wouldn't be completely sold on a waiting ride in what may be a tactical race, not at even money or so at any rate.

Second favourite is the Roger Charlton-trainer Headman, who won the always top-class London Gold Cup handicap before a brace of Group 2's in France, and finished off with a solid fifth in the Irish Champion Stakes. I'm just not at all sold on the French pattern form from last year with pretty much all of their black type races having been won by overseas raiders.

Barney Roy seems to have been around forever - indeed he won the St James's Palace Stakes in 2017 at this meeting, having run up to Churchill in the 2000 Guineas previously. More recently his best form has been in Dubai but, as a nine-furlong horse stretching out, he might have the tactical toe to outspeed rivals if it is a steadily run contest.

Officially rated the same as Japan - both on 122 - is Addeybb. He enjoyed a purple patch down under in the spring winning a pair of G1's; in beating the same horse twice, however, there may be reservations about the form. It is probably a lot fairer to say I am incapable of quantifying the Australian form. Historically, their best middle-distance horses have not been as good as ours. All that said, Addeybb was second to Magical in the Group 1 Champion Stakes on soft ground before leaving for Oz so he has rock solid course and distance form and any rain will support his cause.

John Gosden runs both the filly Mehdaayih and the progressive Cambridgeshire winner, Lord North. The former was sent off favourite for the Oaks last year: things didn't work out on that tricky track and she showed better form in a Group 2 in France subsequently. Despite getting closest to Japanese raider, Deirdre, in the G1 Nassau Stakes at Goodwood last summer, and even with her gender allowance, she doesn't especially appeal on here second spin against the men here.

Lord North has moved forward a stone, from a mark of 98 to 112. That gives him ten pounds to find with the best of these and he was perhaps a little fortunate to beat Elarqam last time. It would be a surprise and, from a form perspective a disappointment, if Bangkok was good enough.

The Prince Of Wales's Stakes is a difficult race to weigh up this year. On the face of it, Japan should win: ten furlongs looks optimal for an improving multiple Group 1-winning colt. But perhaps not a steadily run ten furlongs; and perhaps not on his seasonal bow. At the prices - always at the prices - I'm going to take him on with Addeybb. He too is a risky proposition: is he over his travel exertions? Is that form actually good enough? But he does like a bit of cut and his run behind Magical in the Champion Stakes last autumn is high class and over track/trip. At 10/1 in a place, that'll do for me.

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3.35 Royal Hunt Cup (Class 2 Handicap, 1m, 3yo+)

An impossible cavalry charge down the straight mile. As always in such races, I'm looking for a hold up or midfield horse with big field form, ideally here. My shortlist is Kynren, Raising Sand, Indeed, What's The Story, and last year's winner, Afaak.

Kynren is a season ticket holder in these kind of events, finally snaffling an overdue win in a heritage handicap at the track over seven furlongs last autumn. Therein may lie the key, though: he is probably slightly better at seven than a mile for all that a form string of 052516 in huge field Ascot handicaps marks him down as an extra place each way wager.

Raising Sand has a similar profile to Kynren. He, too, has been uber-consistent in the context: 143078164310 is his string, which at a mile goes to 1763 and a mile on soft side of good 163. The '3' was in this race last year but another five pounds hardly makes his task easier. I respect this chap but will let him beat me.

Dominic Ffrench-Davis doesn't have many superstars but he is clearly eminently capable of handling a good one when it comes along. Enter Indeed, second in a soft ground nine-furlong straight track Group 3 last season, ideal credentials for finishing off this furlong shorter mission. He's gone very well fresh in the past and, while his handicap mark is no 'gimme', he's feasibly weighted from a mid-track position.

What's The Story will be ridden by Callum Rodriguez, so naturally I'll be hollering for him out of loyalty. But his form profile stacks up, too. Although there are mixed messages about softish ground, he has handled a variety of underfoot conditions and stays as far as ten furlongs as well as being nippy enough for seven. In other words, he's versatile. Whether he is quite enough of a specialist for this gig, I'm not sure.

Afaak, or something very similar, is what I was screaming twelve months ago as Jim Crowley repelled Jamie Spencer's late Clon Coulis charge. That was on soft ground and, remarkably, Afaak had been second in this same race a year prior to that. 2nd of 30 (rated 103) and 1st of 28 (rated 103) screams contender, especially off a mere three pound higher mark mitigated entirely by Cieren Fallon's three pound claim. There can be little doubt this has been the target.

There are any number of less exposed, more fashionable profiles at the top of the market but this is a race that tends to go the way of a battle-hardened handicapper with a touch of class. With that in mind, Indeed and Afaak are my each way two against the field, both at around 16/1. Try for fifteen places!

Royal Hunt Cup 2020 pace map, ordered by draw

Royal Hunt Cup 2020 pace map, ordered by draw

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4.10 Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed, 5f, 2yo)

The first two-year-old race of the week, and as many as twenty of them go to post.

US trainer Wesley Ward is two from twelve in this race, most recently with Hootenanny in 2014. He's had a couple of shorties down the field since, and the soft ground is probably not optimal for Sunshine City. Although only midfield from the gate on her four-and-a-half furlong turning dirt track debut, she can be expected to bounce alertly here; but it won't be lost on many what a different proposition this will be. Of course, Wes has done it before and he might do it again. The price means I'll look elsewhere. Ward also runs Sheriff Bianco, beaten three lengths on debut and not on my wishlist.

Aidan O'Brien is the other obvious trainer in the race having saddled last year's victor, Southern Hills, and 2015 champ, Washington DC. He's also had a second, a third and four fourths from 16 entries. Chief Little Hawk, an impressive winner just a week ago, travelled well that day and quickened up readily. The ground will be a little softer here but he's feared.

The upstart in this juvenile sprint division is Archie Watson. He got the lot two years ago with Soldier's Call and has another live one in Mighty Gurkha. The cheaply bought Sepoy colt bossed things from the stalls on his sole jaunt thus far, a six-furlong Lingfield all weather spin. Soldier's Call also began on the Lingfield AW but he didn't scoot up by eight long lengths! Who knows what was behind Mighty Gurkha that day - the second has been disappointing since - but Watson's entry has both speed and relative stamina.

The Queen's Tactical, trained by Andrew Balding and ridden by James Doyle, has been backed recently in the manner of a horse that has come out of his debut well. That effort, 13 days ago, was a two-length third in a Newmarket maiden (Get It a length and a quarter ahead in second) where Tactical encountered a small amount of trouble in the run. Balding's horses invariably improve from first to second start - he wins second time out at 20%, first time out at 11%. He might be able to reverse the form with Get It, whose trainer Clive Cox scores at roughly 10% with horses on both their first and second starts.

At bigger prices, James Tate's Victory Heights and George Boughey's Astimegoesby are not without a chance, a comment which doubtless applies to several others unmentioned in these despatches.

Wagering the Windsor Castle is not for the faint-hearted, like most of what has preceded it, and Chief Little Hawk is an unimaginative though pretty solid suggestion. Mighty Gurkha could also go well at a bigger price.

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4.40 Copper Horse Handicap (Class 2 Handicap, 1m6f, 4yo+)

A one off this year is the mile and three quarters Copper Horse Handicap, for older horses. With very few handicaps run over this trip at Ascot, and none with sort of field size, it is difficult to know what will be the impact of draw and pace. The likelihood, however, is that it might follow the pattern of big-field mile and a half handicaps, with a middle to wide draw and a good trip being optimal. Below is the Instant Expert view of the world:

As can be seen in the above, which is displaying place data, Alright Sunshine, Shailene, Fujaira Prince and Here And Now all have green for those components against which they've previously raced.

Alright Sunshine drops down in class from a Group 3 last time, his first run of the year, and if that has blown away the cobwebs he'll bring progressive handicap form, including on softish ground, to the party. A four pound rise for that recent outing doesn't especially help, however; nor does an inside draw for a hold up type: he will need plenty of luck in the run.

Shailene has trap one but at least has Silvestre de Sousa to navigate her. They may go straight for the lead - the alternative is almost certainly a boxed-in transit and frustration; either way, it will be hard to get the run of the race with so many rivals ostensibly setting up better. On form, her third in a similar handicap at Goodwood last summer when held up and never quite getting there gives her a squeak.

The favourite is Fujaira Prince. Trained by Roger Varian, the son of Pivotal has stamina on the dam side being out of a Dalakhani mare. That offers hope on this first foray beyond a mile and a half, having stayed on in such contests the last twice, including most recently in the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes at this meeting a year ago. His trainer has an excellent record with horses off a layoff - better than 21%, 50% hitting the frame - and Fujaira Prince has a wide draw to give jockey Andrea Atzeni options.

Here And Now is a massive price, largely because he hasn't run for two years. But I imagine he's well drawn in twelve and has a great profile fit on his old form. Those 2018 efforts include a five length score in a 16-runner two mile Class 2 York handicap. Harry Bentley is one of trainer Ralph Beckett's go-to 'handicap job jockeys' - according to one of my QT Angles anyway - so, while the layoff is clearly a huge question mark, he's worth a small chance at 33/1 or so. Beckett's record with handicappers off a 200+ day rest is 15%, though it is less impressive off an ultra-break like this.

Collide, Ranch Hand and Beckett's other entry and third reserve, Hereby, all have progressive profiles and winning form at this specific distance; as such all have clear chances.

A very trappy close to a fiendish day. Again, Fujaira Prince looks solid at the head of the betting; while I won't be able to resist a tiny tickle on Here And Now. But tiny is what it will be: there will be more feasibly winnable battles in the coming days.

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Good luck!

Matt

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 1 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 1 Preview, Trends, Tips

Barely a fortnight after the start of the flat turf season, and Royal Ascot 2020 is upon us. Like everything else on the planet currently, this year's Royal meeting is trying to mend and make do in the face of enormous challenges. No crowds and no Royals are the most obvious absences; in their place are six additional races, one each Tuesday to Friday and two on Saturday's eight-race extravaganza.

The running order has also been rejigged, mainly to allow a little extra time for the juveniles between a debut and their big Berkshire date. We begin with an old friend, the Buckingham Palace Handicap, which was stood down in 2015 to make way for the (excellent) Commonwealth Cup; and also with a 75-minute earlier start time. Tune in at 2.30 and you'll be five minutes too late for the quadpot, let alone the placepot!

The going is good to soft. The forecast is warm with the possibility of thunder storms all week. In other words, it could dry out and it could get wetter - great!

1.15 Buckingham Palace Handicap (7f, Class 2, 3yo+)

A three-year-old-plus handicap with none of the Classic generation in attendance. Good news for form players as there are likely to be a few more lines in the book and a little less projection required.

In big fields over seven furlongs at Ascot, it pays to be waited with, but perhaps not in too exaggerated a fashion. Mid-div may be ideal. Middle to high may be best off from a draw perspective, but it's marginal and not worth lobbing an otherwise credible candidate for.

Big field seven furlong form, ideally here, is my route in and that offers the following shortlist:

Greenside, Kaeso, Cliffs Of Capri, Firmament

Greenside was second in a valuable course and distance handicap on his most recent start in early October last year. The drop back to a truly-run straight seven furlongs for the first time in a 17-race turf career looked to be a positive, and this strong-travelling type was more than three lengths too good for all bar the winner that day. Up five pounds doesn't make life easy, though he has a very good record fresh. Jockey Marco Ghiani, who rode him for the first time in that most recent run, keeps the mount; it will be only his second ride since the resumption (apprentices having not been eligible until 15th June).

Nigel Tinkler is a very shrewd trainer of handicappers and his Kaeso is as consistent as can be in this type of race. 3rd of 26 and 2nd of 23 in the Victoria Cup and International Handicap, both over course and distance, last season speak volumes for Kaeso's ability to handle the profile; and a cobweb-clearing canter down Newcastle's straight seven ten days ago should have brought him forward. Drawn in the middle, he'll be covered up in midfield most likely, and the booking of Oisin Murphy knocks the eye out.

Another profile type is Cliffs Of Capri, Jamie Osborne's globetrotter coming here off the back of a valuable handicap score in Dubai. Since then he ran second at Newmarket 12 days ago to prove his recovery from the travel. He's three pounds higher than when fifth of 20 in the Cunard Handicap in 2018 and would be far from a shock winner.

Firmament has been around a long while now. At least it seems that way; in fact, aged eight, he's a year younger than Greenside. A record of 0-from-14 at the track betrays some excellent efforts, including half a dozen top six efforts in 17+ runner handicaps. His consistency draws little favour from the handicapper, though, so while the booking of James Doyle again takes the eye, the balance of probabilities is that a place is a more playable proposition.

The market is headed by the lightly-raced and progressive Daarik, trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori. He is one of the most obvious handicap bets of the week and, as a direct consequence, will offer zero value (for all that he clearly has solid prospects). If you want a reason to oppose him, it is this: in five career starts, he's raced on turf only once - on debut when a 14 1/2 length last of ten. Of course there are counter-arguments - greenness, etc - but I don't typically want to bet a 4/1 chance in a 24-runner cavalry charge, thanks.

If I'm going to back a progressive blue blood, it'll be Roger Varian's gelded son of Dubawi, Mutamaasik. A winner of his last four starts, he's up just three pounds for a recent narrow verdict in a tactical affair. Drawn in the middle of the pack and probably in the middle of the pace will give Dane O'Neill options.

Clearly a wide open event to kick us off, keep in mind the advice about each way betting and extra places here. 8/1 Kaeso and 16/1 Greenside are the pair for me, each way, with all the extra places you can get.

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1.50 Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1, 1m, 4yo+)

The traditional curtain-raiser has its own warm up act this year, but still comes on stage 40 minutes earlier than usual. A sequence of 13 winners at odds of 15/2 or shorter came unceremoniously unstuck in 2018 when Accidental Agent recorded a 33/1 score. Last year was tricky, too, as 14/1 Lord Glitters got the better of a brace of 20/1 shots with a 25/1 poke in fourth.

The winners and runners-up, and indeed the next pair home last year, all raced in rear early: that's the tactic in big field mile races on the straight track as a rule, and so a quick squint at the pace map may be instructive.

As can be seen, there are not many out and out hold up types, exceptions being the 2018 winner (who planted in the stalls in last year's race); last year's 7f Jersey Stakes winner, Space Traveller; Bless Him, and Escobar.

In the midfield are likely to be such as the unlucky-on-the-round-course-last-year Fox Chairman, Skardu, Duke Of Hazzard and Mohaather.

The favourite is Circus Maximus, a good horse if a bit of a high-class grinder. This stiff test will probably be up his street but he is 0-from-3 on a straight track and he's another favourite I'll be opposing. I'm also against the progressive filly, Terebellum, a winner at Newmarket ten days ago but who is stepping back a quarter mile here. As well as the trip switch, she faces the boys and is up in class; all told, she's a poor price.

Fox Chairman was a big eye-catcher in the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot last season when getting no run before finishing best to be a respectful second, two big lengths behind Sangarius. He duly converted a penalty kick at Newbury next time out, in Listed company, but hasn't been sighted in the eleven months since. Trainer Andrew Balding has been in cracking form at the start of the turf campaign, and they've reportedly minded the Chairman after a slight setback last term. Still, this straight mile is a very different test and again represents a class elevation.

Mustashry had a rough passage last season in this race, eventually finishing seventh beaten less than four lengths. Jim Crowley jumps ship this time, instead opting for Mohaather, which can hardly be viewed as a positive for all that jockeys habitually choose wrong. Mustashry is a legit G1 horse, having beaten Laurens in the Lockinge last term, and with Dane O'Neill a more than able deputy, he looks a very fair price at around 12/1.

There is a good chance Mohaather has strengthened up since his three-year-old year in 2019, and a sole defeat on heavy ground - in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over course and distance no less - is eminently forgivable. Trainer Marcus Tregoning has started in very good form, albeit from just a handful of runners, so the team will be excited about this lad.

William Haggas runs Skardu, another four-year-old in the line up. He wasn't beaten far in a trio of Group 1 events last season, all at a mile on similar ground. His straight track mile form includes third in the 2000 Guineas and fourth in the Irish equivalent, when perhaps a little fatigued from the previous engagement. Jockey James 'the Doyler' Doyle will have him wrapped up until the quarter pole most likely and I can see this one running a big race.

Your first 30 days for just £1

It's a wide open race once more this year and not one in which to be going 'all in'. For small money, each of 12/1 Mustashry, 14/1 Mohaather and 14/1 Skardu have claims. I'll be dutching the three of them. Hills are going FIVE places in the race and are the place to bet if your fancy is top price there and you want to play each way.

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2.25 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2, 1m 4f, 3yo fillies)

The Ascot Oaks, as this race is generally not affectionately known, comes before the actual Oaks in this topsy-turvy season. Indeed, such is the timing of events that it is very likely the pre-eminent trial for the Epsom fillies' Classic, with the possible exception of the 1000 Guineas.

Plenty have had a run already in these formative days of the turf season, including the favourite, Frankly Darling. The daughter of, you guessed it, Frankel, bolted up on the opening day back: that was on the tapeta at Newcastle, and over a mile and a quarter, but trainer John Gosden has been happy to send some of his best to break their maiden there, including Enable and Stradivarius.

This filly has a long way to go to reach that level, but she might very well dismiss her rivals here in the manner of an Oaks winner-in-waiting. If you fancy her here, the play might be to back her ante post for the Oaks at 12/1. That appeals to me more than taking 7/4 in this at any rate: if she does score nicely here, she'll be second favourite for Epsom.

Second choice is Trefoil, trained by dual Oaks-winning Ralph Beckett. She caught the eye when running on at Newmarket over a quarter mile shorter, but while the trip may suit better the opposition is undoubtedly warmer.

Miss Yoda is a drifter, in spite of winning the Lingfield Oaks Trial. It wasn't her fault the race was a slowly-run muddling affair and, given her track position through the race, the even money favourite that day can probably be marked up just a smidge. That's not to say I want to bet her here, but she is a credible second string to Gosden's bow.

Gosden has a third string, too, in the form of Anastarsia, who was all at sea behind Miss Yoda (and Golden Lips and West End Girl and So I Told You, all of which re-oppose) on the Lingfield slopes. She probably won't reverse places with all of them but she certainly had the most excuses that day and might go better than a 40/1 chance.

The one I like, however, is Passion. Trained by Aidan O'Brien, she was given a 'welcome to 2020, onwards and upwards' introduction by Seamie Heffernan in the Listed Salsabil Stakes at Navan. She'll have needed that to be an easy pipe opener as it came just six days prior to this and, of course, she has to travel over. But she is bred for this job - by Galileo out of an Anabaa mare, a sister to St Leger / Irish Derby winner, Capri, amongst other stayers - and she will have Ryan Moore to assist.

This is a race that looks certain to shake up the Oaks betting. It could easily go to the favourite, Frankly Darling, and she is worthy of small pre-race support for Epsom; but the each way play is Passion, whose price is shortening but is still 7/1 with Victor and Paddy. She's 33/1 for the Oaks.

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3.00 King Edward VII Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f, 3yo colts & geldings)

After the 'Ascot Oaks' comes the 'Ascot Derby', an ostensibly shallower contest this year, though undoubtedly one with Epsom on its mind: the odds-on favourite here, Mogul, is a single-figure price already for the Derby.

Beautifully bred, by Galileo out of a Danehill mare, he's a brother to Japan amongst other Group race winners and cost 3,400,000 guineas (count 'em!) as a yearling. He himself is already a Group 2 winner having achieved that level of performance in the Champions Juvenile Stakes on Irish Champions Weekend last autumn. Arguably a little flat on his final start of 2019, when only fourth in the Group 1 Vertem Futurity, relocated to Newcastle, that was his fourth race in the space of three and a half months.

Ballydoyle sends a second runner to post, Arthur's Kingdom, perhaps as a pacemaker, perhaps to test his own Derby credentials. A mere snip at €240,000 compared with his stable mate, the son of Camelot - do you see what they did there? - has yet to win in pattern company but was quietly impressive on heavy ground when breaking his maiden at the third time of asking.

It is always so hard to guess at the O'Brien pecking order: with myriad royally-bred lightly-raced colts at their disposal, the yard's insistence that even they don't know the hierarchy until early summer of the Classic campaign is totally plausible.

Sandwiched between the Ballydoylers in the King Edward VII Stakes betting is the David Simcock-trained Mohican Heights. Unbeaten in two last term, including a Listed race over a mile, the son of Australia - who changed hands for £520,000 at the boutique pre-Ascot Goffs London sale last year - makes his seasonal reappearance. Stamina shouldn't be an issue though he will be having his first run for nigh on 300 days and only the third of his life.

The pace may be put to the race by Silvestre de Sousa atop Kingpower's Papa Power. Unraced at two, he was winner of the final two of three novice events on the all-weather earlier this year, putting them to bed long before the finish each time. It will be interesting to see how that works out here: an uncontested lead, kicking at the top of the shortish home straight would make him tough to reel in. That name as well: I don't know for sure, but it just might be a nod to the much-loved Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, so tragically killed in that helicopter crash last year. If that's right, they must think a lot of this fellow.

Pyledriver and Sound Of Cannons are both more exposed, though both retain some appeal for another day, the latter - who ran  a better than it looked race in the Lingfield Derby Trial - especially.

This could quite possibly be a tactical race. It also features an odds-on favourite. As such, it is less than compelling from a wagering stance. I'm fairly sure Mogul is the best horse in the race, but I'm not convinced the set up is optimal and, in the circumstances, it might be worth taking a chance on 9/1 Papa Power. Despite the hiatus, he's had more racing this term than his rivals and he could get to boss things from the front: no better man for that job than his pilot, SdS.

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3.35 King's Stand Stakes (Group 1, 5f, 3yo+)

One of the day one features, the King's Stand is the province of the speedballs. This term it looked set to be a match between the brilliant sprinter Battaash and the exciting upstart Sceptical. Disappointingly - especially as I held a 20/1 voucher for him in this contest - Sceptical waits until Saturday and the Golden Jubilee Stakes. I felt the stiff finish here, for a strong-travelling horse with a withering gear change, was optimal. He'll probably go and win the Saturday showcase now, and in truth I hope he does. Sigh.

Back to the here and now, and it is Battaash's to lose. On ratings he is ten pounds clear of the next best, and that horse - Glass Slippers - has been duffing up second-tier dashers in France.

A procession for Battaash then? Probably, though not definitely. Of course not definitely: it's a horse race after all!

Charles Hills' champion has had his Achilles heel exposed at Ascot in the past and has a record here of 022. But that pair of silvers was against another champion, Blue Point, for whom Ascot's stiff finish was optimal. With the stable in form, and no Blue Point or Sceptical, there are no excuses this time. He'll very likely win and 8/11 is not the worst value odds-on bet I've seen.

A race like this sets up perfectly for the 'without the favourite' players. Hills are the only one to price it up as I write, and they are 11/10 Glass Slippers, 4/1 bar. I'm happy to field against Glass Slippers for reasons flagged above - if I'm wrong, I'm wrong - so it's an attractive route into a race where we can simultaneously cheer a champ and collect on the 'underneath'.

The three-year-old Liberty Beach ticks plenty of boxes in receipt of weight-for-age. She obviously gets that for her relative lack of physical maturity, but she's rapid as she showed when winning the Listed Dragon Stakes and the Group 3 Molecomb Stakes at this distance. She was also fourth (of 25) in the Queen Mary, and demonstrated her stamina credentials for this stiff finish when winning a Listed race over six furlongs on good to soft nine days ago. She'll not be too far off the speed.

The one at a price is Henry Candy's filly, Kurious. She has won her last two over five furlongs and has plenty of early speed. Not beaten far in the 2018 Queen Mary, she's been patiently handled since. 12/1 in the 'without' market makes some appeal.

Although he can get himself worked up beforehand, and although he's been susceptible in Ascot races to a spoiler in the past, I think BATTAASH will win. I hope he does because he's a bloody brilliant sprinter on his day. He's a sure fire 'on top' for exacta players and it might pay to select the two fillies Liberty Beach and Kurious underneath. They are sporting wagers in the 'without' market, too.

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4.10 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (1m, Group 2, 4yo+ Fillies & Mares)

Formerly the Windsor Forest Stakes, this is a mile on the straight course for older fillies and mares. A couple of the features of the race are the record of the French and the record of held up runners.

The French have run 17 femmes in the race since its 2004 inception, with a form string of 42301005982391531. So that's three winners (17.6%) and eight top three finishes (47%).

Moving along to run style, and hold up horses have won all of the last five renewals. Going further back, a combination of midfield and hold up horses have won every renewal since Strawberrydaiquiri made all in 2010.

There is one French filly in the field, Wasmya, trained by Francis-Henri Graffard and ridden by... Frankie Dettori. Generally played from midfield, she's 10/1 currently but will surely shorten. The daughter of Toronado, out of a Danehill Dancer mare, is bred for the trip though she's having her first try since debut at it; she is also tongue tied for the first time. That breathing aid would not need to eke out massive improvement for her to have a squeak.

You'll have to take my word for Wasmya's general run style as we sadly do not yet have the French form in our database. Nevertheless, you can view the projected pace map for the remainder of the field below.

The unbeaten Miss O Connor will need to be good to repel her field given the historical advantage to waited with types, but she ought to be largely uncontested on the lead at least. The winner looks most likely to emerge from the later-running cluster drawn two to seven, with both Frankie and Jim Crowley, aboard favoured Nazeef, well berthed to track that early speed.

Nazeef is herself unbeaten in her last four races, most recently when seeing off the high-class Billesdon Brook in a Listed race at Kempton 13 days ago. If that turning all-weather strip bears no resemblance to the straight lawn here, her previous six-length romp in a Class 3 mile handicap at Newmarket (good to firm) showed such a configuration will not preclude an extension of her victory sequence to a nap hand.

Sir Michael Stoute has a peerless record in the race, with four winners from 17 runners, and nine in the frame in total (a 53% place rate). He saddles Jubiloso, third in the round course three-year-old Group 1 Coronation Stakes at this meeting a year ago. While three of Sir Michael's winners had had a seasonal run, this year's truncated beginning has meant Jubiloso arrives off a 290 day absence. The inaugural Duke Of Cambridge winner, Favourable Terms, overcame a similarly long layoff for the same trainer and the yard has been in great form since the resumption.

Jubiloso was a little disappointing after Ascot last season, however: only third as the even money favourite in a Goodwood Group 3 and one from last of eight when odds-on in a similar event at Sandown. That would be enough to dissuade me at the current prices.

Lavender's Blue was the winner of the Sandown race, her form at a mile looking solid. Indeed, she followed up that G3 score with a very good three-length fourth in the Group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes. With just five career starts to her name, proven top level form over a straight mile, and a midfield run style, Amanda Perrett's four-year-old daughter of Sea The Stars - owned by Abba's Benny Andersson - could hit the right notes here. (Mamma mia!)

The other interesting filly is Queen Power, also trained by Sir Michael Stoute. She was staying on over ten furlongs last time and drops back in trip here, not an obvious play to my eye. A daughter of Shamardal, whose is an excellent Royal Ascot sire, she won't want James Doyle on Miss O Connor to amble along too steadily in front. In any event, the balance of her form is decent but typically in defeat.

If you're looking for a rag to outrun its price, Agincourt may offer a run for pennies. She won a Listed race on Newmarket's straight mile, and has a straight track record (seven furlongs and a mile) of 1221. Her trainer David O'Meara won this in 2015 for the same owner, Sir Robert Ogden. She's 40/1.

It's a competitive affair with lots of interesting runners. Nazeef looks a reasonable favourite, and I'd personally favour her over Jubiloso at the head of the betting - though the latter is clearly pleasing the pre-eminent race trainer at home. Price preference is for 6/1 Lavender's Blue and 10/1 Wasmya, the former whose form may be a little under-rated and who should be able to progress further this year, the latter who represents similar potential and a Gallic gear change. Agincourt at 40/1 is a Hail Mary of mild interest.

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4.40 Ascot Stakes (2m4f, Class 2 Handicap, 4yo+)

The lucky last on the opening day is the Ascot Stakes, a staying handicap. No winner has returned a bigger SP than 12/1 since 2008 and, in a race where we need all the whittling we can get, that's a reasonable starting point.

The draw has been an irrelevance since the maximum field size was reduced to 20, but what has been significant is the dominance of jumps or dual-purpose trainers - winners of the previous ten Ascot Stakes, all with horses aged five-plus and all bar one of which had already raced over hurdles.

Slightly more tenuously, all - bar two of Willie Mullins' four winners in the past decade, and Ian Williams' 2019 winner - had won over further over jumps.

Using the more robust of those criteria helps to form this tentative shortlist:

Verdana Blue, Blue Laureate, Coeur De Lion, Quloob, San Benedeto

Verdana Blue is the favourite, at around 7/2. She is a high class hurdler trained by Nicky Henderson, but Henderson's record in the race is 1 from 23, just four placed. Giving weight all round she's hardly a 'gimme'.

Blue Laureate represents last year's winning stable, super shrewd Ian Williams. This man is arguably the best 'target trainer' in Britain and everything he runs in a big race commands a second, and a third, glance. A five-year-old who has improved for longer trips, he was third in the 2m2f Cesarewitch Trial at Newmarket last backend, and a keeping on second in a two mile Class 2 handicap on seasonal bow eight days ago. If this doesn't come too soon, he might just improve again for an extra half mile. Crack apprentice Cieren Fallon gets the leg up.

There are few horses more consistent than the well-named Coeur De Lion. This lad gets carried out on his shield every time he runs, for all that the scars of recent battles have seemingly taken longer to heal. Sixth and fifth in this race in the last two years, he runs off the same mark as a year ago but may struggle to get much closer this time around.

Quloob runs for the Heart of the South syndicate, and is part-owned by a regular geegeez.co.uk syndicateer, Graham W, so I wish this chap the best of luck. His trainer, Gary Moore, is a top-class dual purpose exponent, and Quloob deserves his place after a string of consistent efforts. Moore, however, has yet to saddle a placed horse in the Ascot Stakes, from eight runners to date.

Paul Nicholls makes a rare foray to Royal Ascot with San Benedeto (and 33/1 Ashutor). San B is unraced on the level since his juvenile season in 2013! He is high class over fences, rated in the 150's, and will have no problem with the distance. If they go fast early, it should allow him to plod through beaten horses though whether he's capable of getting past all of them is a far bigger question. It's a leap of faith to back him after so many years away from this discipline.

Of those not fitting the profile, last year's second, Dubawi Fifty, gets in off the same mark; but there looks to be a lot more pace contention this time if connections elect to revert to the front-running strategy they deployed twelve months ago.

There are another fourteen with a squeak!

For small money, I'll chance my arm with Ian Williams' Blue Laureate. As well as the winner last year, his other runner was third, so it's fair to say he's worked out what is required. At a general 14/1, including six places (1/5 odds) with Paddy if you can get it, he'll do for me.

**

And that's Tuesday's card. There are four more days to follow, so keep some powder dry. Good luck!

Matt

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