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Ebor Handicap 2021 Preview and Tips: Away He Goes Ticks All The Boxes

It’s quality not quantity as far as the live races on Saturday are concerned and as I’m a big handicap fan the choice seems to be the Melrose or the Ebor, both run over the same course and distance. I love a 3yo stayer but there are just too many unknowns in the Melrose with so many lightly raced runners meaning it’s the big one, the Ebor Handicap, that I’ll be previewing this week.

The race is due off at 3.35pm and as usual it will be run over York’s 1m6f course. There are 22 runners (plus reserves) to go through and hopefully the race will be run on good to firm ground. There is rain forecast on Saturday but the vast majority is likely to fall after the race and after racing finishes as things stand. This of course could change between now and Saturday though.

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Draw

The effect of the draw on round course races can sometimes be overlooked, and sometimes overestimated, where do you want to be drawn over this course and distance?

Not much between the win figures but slightly against convention the place percentages and PRB figures suggest low is slightly disadvantaged with a considerably lower place percentage compared to middle and high and a slightly worse PRB score than the higher draws.

This is something that should be investigated further with the individual stall data.

It’s worth noting that eight of the best nine individual stall PRB figures belong to double figure draws with 16, 18, 19 and 20 filling the top four positions. This would suggest the higher the draw the better.

Stalls 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 are all amongst the poorer performers with PRB figures between 0.47 and 0.39.

Stalls 1 and 20 have both previously won this race so you can clearly win from anywhere and no draw should be written off but slight preference would be for something drawn in the top half of the draw, all other things being equal.

Pace

The shorter trips here favour early pace, what about this distance?

Quite the opposite when it comes to the 1m6f distance here with hold up performers bossing it in terms of both win percentage and place percentage. The place percentages suggest there isn’t much between mid division and front running with prominent coming out worse of all with a place percentage that is three times worse than that for the most patiently ridden types.

It’s not impossible to make all here but it’s pretty clear that on fast ground it will be difficult to dominate and in most cases those that are held up and delivered late may have a distinct advantage.

The individual pace make up of each race will obviously have an impact on this but granted an even to strong early gallop the best value could be gained from hold up performers in this race.

Ebor Handicap 2021 Pace Map

Here is the pace map for the 2021 running of the Ebor Handicap at York.

There clearly isn’t going to be an extremely strong pace in this with just one recognised front runner (Mt Leinster) but Makawee has led in two of his last three starts (was held up on his penultimate run making his average run style look slightly less prominent). Max Vega is another who has led in two of his last three runs so there should be no shortage of pace and at the very least we’ll likely get an even gallop that could give a slight edge to the runners that are held up.

Draw and Pace Combination

With such a big field here we could witness some micro advantages within the usual draw and pace biases so the draw and pace combination heat map will help highlight those.

What this heat map tells us that front runners are best served by a middle draw with prominent racers doing best from a low draw (but not doing well in general). Low draws that race in mid division seem to perform extremely poorly but they do much better from middle to low draws and the draw doesn’t seem to matter at all if you are held up.

So whilst a low draw had seemed a slight disadvantage according to the draw data, this helps highlight that it is no disadvantage at all if you are going to be held up but the stats aren’t good for all other run types with low draws.

The Runners

Here are the runners for the 2021 Ebor Handicap, in early odds order:

Live Your Dream *FIRST RESERVE*

The ante post favourite for this isn’t guaranteed a run, he needs one to come out. Quite a few of the field would prefer rain so maybe he’ll get a run but most entries are going to want to see how early Saturday’s rain turns up which could count against him.

On form he has obvious claims having bolted up in an uncompetitive Wolverhampton handicap before winning a 15 runner heritage handicap over this trip at Newmarket at the July Festival. That looks pretty solid form, even if it hasn’t worked out particularly well, and he can’t really be crabbed for beating everything he’s come up against comfortably at this trip or further.

Sonnyboyliston

Yet to race on faster than good but his better form has come on better ground so there should be no issues with underfoot conditions. One of his most interesting pieces of form is his 4.25 length victory at the Curragh 11 months ago which worked out well and that effort suggests he was more well in than the 9lb higher mark he now runs off.

His form has been slightly underwhelming this season though for one of his rating. He won a pretty poor listed race in June over 12f and his two runs over further haven’t particularly advertised his claims for this – he was behind three of these rivals last time out over course and distance including Roberto Escobar who he has to give weight to here.

Hamish

Still lightly raced and certainly a horse to be interested in given he won twice over course and distance in 2019 before being beaten just a neck by subsequent group 1 winner Trueshan off level weights. He only managed one run last season though, which was an eyecatching run at Royal Ascot.

His form is top notch and he’s certainly capable of proving better than his handicap mark of 108 but he hasn’t been seen for 428 days and on top of that he’d prefer softer ground by all accounts, for all he has won on good to firm here previously. In these big handicaps you tend to get one horse who shortens dramatically just before the off and Hamish looks like that sort of runner. Either way he's certainly one to watch in the market, even if he is already well found.

Ilaraab

Likes it here as he’s won both starts on the Knavesmire but he’s pretty ground dependent (was withdrawn on good ground last time out). He beat an okay field by 3 lengths here in May off a mark of 102 which was a smart effort but he seemed to have his limitations exposed somewhat next time out at Royal Ascot in deeper company. The return to this venue may suit but he’ll want plenty of rain and he still has to prove himself over this trip.

Mt Leinster

The sole runner for Willie Mullins, who had several well fancied entries at the five day stage. He’s only had four runs on the flat producing form figures of 1211. In September last year he beat 101 rated Cape Gentleman in a listed contest by 5 lengths so the fact he runs off 102 here is interesting, especially as he was giving Cape Gentleman 11lbs that day.

He certainly looks well handicapped but he hasn’t been seen for 314 days and there has to be a ground concern as all his wins have come on soft ground and he’s been beaten all seven times he’s raced on anything better (even yielding). Yet another that will likely want rain.

Tribal Craft

He's been running very well this term and a 2 length defeat at the hands of Wonderful Tonight last time out at Goodwood is certainly no disgrace, even in receipt of 3lbs. That effort means he’s 4lbs well in here but once again, he’s one of those that surely wants rain having been kept to soft ground all season. Ignoring a three runner novice race win he’s been beaten in all eight runs that have come on good to soft or faster.

Fujaira Prince

Last year’s winner has only had one run this season so far and it was a fair 3rd over course and distance in listed company, leaving the impression he’d come on for the run. His win in this last year came on soft and he does prefer cut in the ground but he’s run well on good to firm and good ground previously, in fact he’s run well everytime he’s reached a racecourse given he’s yet to finish out of the first 3 in all 11 starts.

He’s up 6lbs from last year’s win which doesn’t rule him out and this has surely been the plan all season. He followed up last year’s victory with a 2nd place in the Irish St Leger so he’s clearly very useful but he could end up finding a couple better handicapped.

Mirann

Plenty of solid form in the book and stays the trip. Only 1lb higher than a decent 4th at Royal Ascot in the Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap. The ground could be a problem though. If it stay fast then he’s unproven on it and his best form is on softer. If it does soften then there are almost certainly better handicapped runners with give in the ground.

Away He Goes

He's 2lbs well in following a career best 2nd in the Goodwood Cup. That effort came on soft ground but his previous three wins have been on much faster ground so he could be capable of better yet, especially as he’s not fully exposed after 15 runs so far (only 4 of those have been at further than 12f).

He has work to do with a couple of these based on his run in the Silver Cup Stakes here but a bigger field and stronger pace will be in his favour and he’s not to be underestimated, for all he might be even better over 2 miles than this trip. Drawn extremely wide but that’s not necessarily a disadvantage.

Humanitarian

Another one that comes here off an absence, Humanitarian hasn’t been seen since winning over 12f at Newbury 11 months ago. That win came off a 455 day break meaning he’s had just the one run in the past 26 months. He’s seemingly one of the few that wants the rain to stay away here and he’s proven he can run well after a long break already. The horse he beat last time out, Dubai Future, has subsequently rated 11lbs higher and Humanitarian runs off just a 4lb higher mark here. He’s unproven over this trip but oth his runs at 12f suggest he’ll stay.

Quickthorn

Mudlark who won back to back races on testing ground earlier this season before finding things happening too quickly on good ground in the Silver Cup Stakes when behind several of these. He was poorly in at the weights that day and would be capable of a bold showing on soft or heavy here given his profile but it’s hard to see the ground softening enough in time for him. Something like the Old Borough Cup at Haydock (usually run on testing ground) would be a suitable target after this.

Roberto Escobarr

Very lightly raced still and a 4 length defeat of Matthew Flinders last season (rated just 1lb inferior to Roberto Escobarr now) suggests he could be well handicapped still. He’s 2 from 4 here at York, has won his only start on good to firm (beating a subsequent listed winner) and ran well last time out in the Silver Cup Stakes just half a length behind Fujaira Prince who he now gets 7lbs from. Roberto Escobarr was well placed in that contest but he does look decent value here.

Shanroe

A handicap winner over this trip last time out on good ground which took his flat record to 3 from 5. He’s won on soft ground but he’s also run several good races on good ground so underfoot conditions shouldn’t bother him. The handicap he won in October over this distance off an 18lb lower mark worked out well, which you’d hope for given his subsequent rise in the weights, plus the form of his latest win is pretty solid too. Very few negatives and he’s at the right end of the weights to progress further.

Alounak

Not the most consistent but he’s come good on his last two starts and he’s shaping as though worth trying over this trip. He seems pretty reliant on very soft ground though and the form of his Old Borough Cup win hasn’t really worked out so he could be vulnerable whatever the ground.

Global Storm

Slightly surprising to see him available at twice the price of Live Your Dream given they were separated by less than a length at Newmarket with Global Storm now 3lbs better off. His better form has generally come at Newmarket but it’s also generally come with a bit of cut in the ground too so if the ground was to ease even slightly he might have better claims of reversing that form. Global Storm did prove himself away from Newmarket when placing at Royal Ascot and given his consistent profile there will certainly be worse each way bets out there.

On To Victory

Won last year’s November Handicap in testing conditions and ran extremely well to get as close to Hukum as he did at Goodwood in May, surely running above his rating of 104. It was therefore a bit underwhelming that he was only 5th off this mark last time out in a handicap at that same venue when getting his ground again. Three of his four wins have come on soft, the other came on good to soft, so he needs rain to be at his best and he needs to improve on that latest run but he has a chance on his best efforts and Saffie Osbourne claims a useful 5lbs.

Pablo Escobarr

Runs against his full brother Roberto Escobarr here, who seems to have a decent chance if the rain stays away until after the race. Unsurprisingly he seems to have a similar going preference to his brother and he seems to have a similar level of ability too. He was rated 5lbs higher last year and hasn’t been the most consistent but he’s probably been campaigned with this in mind and should be cherry ripe now.

He was quite well fancied for this race last year but the ground went against him and connections have been playing with different headgear since. Cheekpieces go back on here for the first time since he was a good 3rd in a listed race over an inadequate trip last year and he’s been shaping as though this sort of trip and big field could be what he wants. Not very reliable but probably overpriced if the rain stays away.

Euchen Glen

A credit to connections who is extremely versatile. He put in a rare below par effort last time which is a slight concern but more of a concern is the fact that he’s 15lbs higher than when winning last year’s Old Borough Cup and 14lbs higher than when 5th in this race last year.

Blue Cup

A slightly frustrating sort who finally came good at Epsom in June when winning by a wide margin and he backed that up with a decent effort in the Wolferton at Royal Ascot when 4th. He ran less well last time out at Newbury and he’s on a stiff enough mark now having gone up 16lbs since his last win and this trip isn’t one he’s sure to see out.

Eagles By Day

Just one win outside of maiden company but it did come over course and distance on good ground in last season’s Silver Cup Stakes. He’s been highly tried since but without any success and in all probability his mark flatters him. He’s only had one run this season, perhaps by design, but he’s got plenty to find.

Makawee

A regular at this venue with a total of eight runs here and he generally seems to run her race with form figures of 15220333. She got 5lbs and an almost 3 length beating from Roberto Escobarr over course and distance earlier this season and is unlikely to reverse that form on these terms.

Max Vega

Still lightly raced and he’s looked better on softer ground to date. With that in mind he didn’t run too badly on seasonal debut on good ground in the Silver Cup Stakes behind several of these given he was poorly positioned, may have needed the run and would have find the surface lively enough. He was 2.25 lengths behind Away He Goes for example and he'll get 5lbs from him here.

Unfortunately if the rain comes and the ground goes in his favour this probably become a more competitive race and he could get found out still. On good to soft he’d represent fair value though.

Mekong

Not the force he was for Sir Michael Stoute and hasn’t really run to form since early last year. Difficult to see him bouncing back in such a competitive race.

The Verdict

A tremendously tricky puzzle to solve, complicated further by the possibility of the ground slowly easing throughout the day. At the time of writing this rain is likely to hit towards the end of the card (and after) so the race being run on ground softer than good seems unlikely for now. That would be a negative for the likes of Ilaraab, Mt Leinster, Mirann, Tribal Craft, Alounak, Quickthorn, On To Victory and Max Vega, amongst others. That’s almost half the field plus Fujaira Prince, Hamish and Global Storm would prefer the rains to come, even if they have run well on faster ground before.

Hamish in particular is very interesting still. He’s been extremely consistent to date on the racecourse and has even proven he can run well off this sort of absence before. He’s still a risky proposition though given the absence and the ground so unless there is sustained market support he’s probably not one to get too involved in at the price.

If the ground does stay on the fast side then Live Your Dream, Sonnyboyliston, Humanitarian, Away He Goes, Roberto Escobarr, and Pablo Escobarr should all run well. Humanitarian is very interesting and like Hamish, he’s proved himself off an absence before but still plenty has to be taken on trust. The Escobarr brothers are probably overpriced but neither are particularly reliable.

The Silver Cup Stakes could be a key bit of form for this given six of these ran in the race and the pick of those could be AWAY HE GOES. He seems a better horse with a run under his belt so should improve beyond several of those in that race (he doesn't have to improve much to beat Sonnyboyliston on these terms). He’s completely unexposed as a stayer, ran a career best last time out, will enjoy the big field scenario and he’s run well on fast and soft ground so for those of us having an early bet on the race he’s a safe candidate. On his last handicap run, earlier this year, he was runner up off an 8lb lower mark, beaten less than a length behind a horse that was 11lbs well in who enjoyed the run of the race more than Away He Goes, who in hindsight was also running over an inadequate trip. He’s officially 2lbs well in here but could still have more in hand than that. He's only a suggestion though in such a difficult race.

Great St Wilfrid 2021 Preview and Tips: Course Specialist Can Strike Again

Some very, very good racing to look forward to at York next week but for now we must tackle one of the live contests on ITV this weekend. The big field races are largely coming at Ripon in the Great St Wilfrid and also the consolation race. Both races are maximum 20 runner fields and it’s the big one itself that looks slightly more interesting, at 3.10pm.

Amazingly, for once we have a clear weather forecast meaning we know what ground to expect. It’s good at the moment and usually well watered so might not get much faster before the off.

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I think we are going to see some quite strong biases for this one…

Draw

Is it going to be low, middle or high for this big sprint handicap?

There is only a relatively small sample size here but I’m keen to keep the filters as they are for this. On softer ground there can be much more of a bias towards the higher drawn horses so that could skew the data for likely going conditions on Saturday. I also don’t want to reduce the number of runners as the fewer runners there are, the further the lower numbers will be from the far side rail.

So on to the data sample we are presented with. More winners come from the middle but we’re not really concerned about the winners here as it’s a small sample. The place data suggests Low and middle have the edge (very little in it) but the PRB data, which makes the most of our small sample as every runner contributes to this metric, has low out in front at 0.54 with middle and high both slightly disadvantaged at 0.48.

So how can low draws be best if the last five winners of this race have been drawn 17, 15, 19,10 and 13 and the last five winners of the consolation race have been drawn 18, 14, 20, 20 and 16? That looks like a real bias AGAINST the low draws.

Winners are a small sample but it looks like a high draw is best from this more recent data. Even if you look at the sample of races used above but only from 2016 the PRBs for low and high are still both the same (0.52).

When the data doesn’t quite make sense it’s best to watch some course and distance races back. The last time this race was run on good ground was 2018 and in the consolation race they all came stands’ side (high) with stall 14 winning on the rail and stall 1 finishing runner up despite tracking across the course. In the main race they split into two groups and although stall 19 was successful (once again on the near side rail), the 2nd and 3rd were drawn 7 and 4 and raced on the far side.

The previous year this meeting was also run on good ground. In the consolation they split into two groups with stall 20 winning on the rail (yet again), pulling clear with stall 17 and after that pair it was pretty even between the two sides. In the main event that year they split into two groups and the winner was stall 10, who went far side, but there was again very little between the two groups.

So what my eyes are telling me, admittedly from a small (but very relevant) sample, is that they’ll probably split into two groups, being bang on the near side (high) rail usually leads to a strong performance and if they do split into two groups there can often be very little between the two sides.

Based on what I’ve seen I’m expecting the individual stall data to show that very high draws do well, very low draws do pretty well and the middle performs less well.

The four best individual stalls for PRB are 17, 4, 7 and 18. That means two of the highest four stalls are in the top four best stalls. Stall 20 performs less well for PRB but it’s the most successful stall for win percentage with 2 winners from just 8 runners. The most wins have come from stall 4.

Most of those stalls mentioned above were pretty high or pretty low and the PRB3 line graph below the table shows a spike in performance amongst the highest few stalls and also a strong performance from the lowest six stalls.

Lots to weigh up there but it seems the near side (high numbers) are more likely to be advantaged than far side (low numbers) but in all probability there will be very little between the two sides. Being drawn nearer to either rail looks an advantage but nothing can be 100% ruled in or out solely because of the draw.

Pace

Ripon is often a front runner’s track, will that be reflected in the data?

I’m happier to relax the filters a little for pace compared to draw in order to get more data and we see a pretty strong bias here.

A huge 30 of the 36 winners have been front runners or prominent racers. Prominent racers perform best of all for win purposes but front runners have the best place percentage (33.78%) compared to prominent (27.04%). Once again returns for those more patiently ridden drop quite dramatically with a place percentage of 15.31% for mid division and 14.69% for held up.

I said I wouldn’t completely rule anything out because of the draw but I would be very reluctant to back anything that isn’t going to be close to the pace in this. Generally speaking, in 16+ runner sprint handicaps, there will be plenty of pace angles but the pace is still holding up well here.

Great St Wilfrid Handicap Pace Map

Plenty of pace angles in this so they could go fairly hard early on and many could be well placed. Given the amount of pace angles it could pay to be handy rather than an out and out front runner.

The quickest of these early on could be Mr Wagyu who has been hugely progressive this season. He’s all pace and should lead overall early. He’s drawn in the middle though so you can’t be sure which side he will go.

Pace and Draw Combination

With some strong pace biases on show and draw biases in the mix too the draw and pace combination heat map should make for interesting reading.

Slightly surprisingly the best pace and draw combination is leading but leading from the middle. This is perhaps the best way to get a good early position from what is probably not a good draw in most cases.

Middle drawn, patiently ridden runners do very poorly and it seems it’s easier to make up ground when drawn low rather than high. It’s difficult to pinpoint why that might be but it often seems that slightly more runners go near side (high) than far side (low) when the fields split. This would mean hold up performers could meet more traffic on the near side (high) than the far side (low) giving lower drawn hold ups a clearer run more often than not.

The Runners

Here are the runners for the 2021 Great St Wilfrid Handicap, in early odds order.

Staxton

Made all on the near side rail in this last year on good to soft ground. He’s won his last three visits to this venue, including on good to firm in April, and his overall form figures here read 235111. When 5th he was still 2nd in his group. This year he is drawn in stall 8 which might be a little more central than ideal.

He clearly goes very well at this venue, it’s just a question of handicap mark and current form. He followed up his last course and distance win with a couple of lacklustre runs but then he was 4th, not getting a clear run, in a very strong renewal of the Scottish Stewards’ Cup (winner won the Goodwood Stewards’ Cup, 3rd won the consolation race, runner up was beaten a short head next time in a hot York handicap). He’s now 1lb lower than that effort and 1lb higher than his last win here so he’s clearly very feasibly handicapped. He ran just about okay in the Stewards’ Cup consolation race last time out in soft ground, that run was largely in line with most of his recent soft ground form.

He’s clearly got a lot going for him, his draw is probably the biggest negative but it can certainly be overcome.

Mr Wagyu

He was 7 lengths ahead of Staxton at Goodwood when winning the Stewards’ consolation race but he was only half a length ahead in the Scottish Stewards’ Cup and Staxton is now a full 12lbs better off. He’s got a great run style for this course but has run poorly here on his last three visits, to counter that though he won his previous two runs here before that so he clearly handles the course. The suspicion is he is going to struggle to confirm form with Staxton here with this course playing to that rival’s strengths perfectly.

Soul Seeker

He's won his last two races but both of those runs, and his two other wins, came at 5f. He’s quite tactically versatile and you couldn’t be too sure how he’ll be ridden but with the step up in distance in mind he could be ridden a little more patiently than usual and that might not suit this course as well. He’s capable of further progress but probably at the minimum trip.

Music Society

He's been progressing nicely and he was beaten just a nose in the hot Scottish Stewards’ Cup but he’s now 8lbs higher here. He’s only 4lbs higher than when beaten a short head at York and isn’t completely handicapped out of this but the biggest problem could be his run style. He likes to be held up and that’s probably why he’s without a win in three attempts here.

Lampang

Certainly not the most consistent and added a slow start to his resume last time out in the Stewards’ Cup (ran okay given his start). He’s tactically versatile when he breaks on terms and did win easily on his only visit here (odds on in a novice) but he’s not really reliable enough to justify his place in the market. He is three from four on turf away from soft ground though and was found to be coughing on his one flop so is potentially interesting on that basis.

Lincoln Park

Another likely pace angle, his last three turf wins have all come at Chester and he seems ideally suited to both that course and ground with plenty of cut in it. He shouldn’t get his ground, has been beaten in all twelve runs when rated 86 or higher (rated 88) here and looks a bit too short.

Boardman

Won three races with ease earlier this season but those wins came at 7f and he’s paid for that with his handicap mark. He’s probably looked more out of form than in the grip of the handicapper on his last two runs which is quite worrying and the drop back in trip isn’t guaranteed to suit, certainly at this course where his run style won’t be favoured.

Embour

He's certainly competitive from this kind of mark as he won off a 3lb higher mark on seasonal debut. He also ran well enough last time out when only beaten just over a length, not suited by a speed test over a furlong shorter at Musselburgh. His prominent racing style should suit this course (never run here before) but all his wins have come in far less competitive races than this and he’ll likely be vulnerable in this company, for all he could run well enough. Minor places might be a good result for him.

Gale Force Maya

Yet another who is often near the early pace and she was beaten just half a length here last time out, albeit in much easier race than this. She’s looked in the grip of the handicapper since winning at Doncaster in April, she’s been beaten off this mark of 92 in all five runs since.

Intrinsic Bond

Went backwards in the spring after a promising seasonal debut but everything came together when winning easily at Catterick two starts ago. Proved this sort of mark isn’t beyond him when beaten just a neck here last time (just ahead of Gale Force Maya), not seen to best effect held up. He made the running when winning at Catterick and a return to more forceful tactics would be a big help here but he might want a little bit of cut in the ground to be very competitive at this level.

Mokaatil

A three time winner this season and still 14lbs lower than his career high mark. He had nothing in hand last time out though and all his wins this season have been at this minimum distance and he’ll likely prove vulnerable back up at 6f.

Mr Lupton

A very in and out sort, summed up by winning a competitive handicap at York three runs ago (often runs well there) followed by barely beating a rival in two starts since. Difficult to catch right and won’t be as well suited by this venue as many others.

Soldier’s Minute

Goes very well at Kempton and York and no reason why this course shouldn’t suit. He’s still 2lbs above his last winning turf mark despite a losing run of 13 on the surface. He’s been in poor form so far this season and is perhaps being laid out for the Ayr Gold Cup if anything (has run well in defeat in the last two renewals).

Golden Apollo

Everything looked in place for a big run at York two starts ago so it was disappointing he could only manage a 6th behind Music Society. He followed that up with an equally disappointing 7th at Doncaster, not running terribly but still never looking like winning. He ran okay in this last year considering his run style doesn’t really suit the course and he met trouble in running but he’s going to have to improve plenty on recent showings to overcome a likely pace bias.

Abate

Disappointed at York a few starts ago but bounced back from that with two wins, both in small fields. Those wins have cost him a 10lb rise in the weights though and he was put in his place last time out off a 1lb lower mark. Runs off a career high mark and doesn’t look well enough handicapped to figure.

Brad The Brief

Needs to find improvement based on both handicap runs to date, for all the last one came a year ago. He’s paid for a heavy ground Group 3 win in France and hasn’t been in much form this year so difficult to see him bouncing back on faster ground. Another that should be up there early.

Manigordo

Sprang a shock when winning at 25/1 at Thirsk in April and has largely struggled since, although he ran a decent 2nd a month ago at Redcar. That was in a much less competitive race than this and he’s run poorly again since. He’s shown he can bounce back from poor runs but he’s inconsistent and even his best form probably leaves him with something to find here.

Justanotherbottle

He's all pace and has only ever won at shorter trips. Well enough beaten on his last two starts and will need to bounce back to form (and find extra stamina reserves) in first time blinkers.

Muscika

Talented but hard to get right. He’s run well here on several occasions in the past without winning in six attempts. Well handicapped on several pieces of form, even this season, but he should have been able to run better at York last time and he’s not one for maximum faith. Wouldn’t be a complete shock if he did run well though.

Illusionist

He hasn’t been at his best on his last three starts but he has run as though in form, he just needs much softer ground. He’s still unexposed at this trip but the ground will probably be fast enough here and he’s one to look out for when the rains return after he’s dropped a few more pounds.

The Verdict

Not many I fancy here to be honest and I’m struggling to make a case for any at bigger prices. Golden Apollo will enjoy the pace setup and has run well here before but seeing him ending his losing run here seems unlikely. He may end up doing best of the hold up horses though.

The form picks at this distance surely have to be Mr Wagyu, Music Society and Staxton. This trio were all in the first four in the hot Scottish Stewards’ Cup and whilst Mr Wagyu and Music Society have advertised that form since, and paid for it in the handicap, STAXTON finds himself running off a 1lb lower mark and should have few problems reversing that form with these two rivals, especially at ‘his’ track.

He was held up in that race, which wouldn’t suit here, but he’s been ridden prominently in every other start this season and in all runs here at Ripon so expect to see him handy here. He doesn’t need to lead, and probably doesn’t want to with all these front runners in the line up, so chasing the leaders will be optimal. He can go either side from his draw, so if the consolation race 35 minutes earlier suggests near side is the place to be he’s not committed to going far side from stall 8. We’ve seen in the past that even those on the ‘wrong’ side still often place so whichever side he goes he should have few problems placing at the very least making him a very solid each way bet, even as ‘short’ as 7/1.

Shergar Cup 2021 Tips and Preview

Let’s get this out there early – I like the Shergar Cup…

I couldn’t care less about which team of jockeys win but we are presented with six races, all with ten runners so they aren’t too hard to figure out and most races tend to be 3/1 or 4/1 the field so the majority tend to be backable prices.

The twist of course is the jockeys but in every race we should account for the quality of the jockeys. If you think a particular jockey isn’t of the required quality to back you can handicap the horses accordingly. Most years you can probably rule two or three of the ten runners out simply because the jockey has never ridden the course, ridden right handed, etc.

This year the jockey choices are very ‘safe’. The Rest of the World team includes Sean Levey, Andrea Atzeni and Kevin Stott who are hardly strangers to Ascot. The only real wildcard jockey selection seems to be Mickaelle Michel, a 26 year old French rider who has joined the Ladies Team. To be honest I’m not particularly familiar with her skills but you’d think the majority of the jockeys who are riding here week in, week out might have a slight edge on her.

I’m going to change the format of these previews this week and go through all of the races at the Shergar Cup, but in slightly less detail than usual. Hopefully I’ll be able to demonstrate that it can be a punter friendly card!

Unfortunately it is yet another weekend where we are playing guess the going due to an uncertain weather forecast. At the time of writing the ground is good but there are thunderstorms coming. It doesn’t look like a substantial amount is forecast so I’m going to assume good ground, maybe just on the easy side. If anything handles good and slightly softer that would be ideal.

Shergar Cup Preview and Tips

12.50 – Shergar Cup Dash – 5f

The draw isn’t going to have much of an impact at this meeting with the ten runner fields, especially on the straight course with the stalls positioned in the centre. Pace will have an impact in all races so let’s take a look at the pace map for this one.

The first thing to note here is that two of the pace angles, Mokaatil and First Edition, are both reserves for this race and will only get a run if there are non runners. This means King Of Stars may well get an uncontested early lead. It can be difficult to make all on the straight course at Ascot but it is far easier to do so over the minimum trip so don't write off front runners here. King Of  Stars will be one that wants the rain to stay away and he’s been beaten off 7lb and 5lb lower marks recently on his favoured ground so whilst he should fare better than at Goodwood, he may be unlikely to take advantage of an easy lead.

Count D’Orsay would be fairly interesting if lots of rain came but he’s been disappointing in two trips to Ascot and it’s possible this isn’t his track.

It is certainly Tis Marvellous’ track.

Pretty much all his best form has come here, he was even 4th in last year’s King’s Stand behind Battaash on ground that was a bit softer than ideal. Having run well here in a big field handicap last month on ground that was again slightly softer than ideal (probably similar to how it will ride here) it was disappointing he wasn’t able to add to his Ascot record last time out when the ground was in his favour. There didn’t seem any excuses that day but there has to be a suspicion that wasn’t him at his best. It would be easy to suggest he’s not been at his best this season but on seasonal debut he was just behind Came From The Dark (now rated 7lbs higher), Garrus (now rated 6lbs higher) and King’s Lynn (now 14lbs higher) and that run came away from Tis Marvellous’ beloved Ascot off a 1lb higher mark. The less rain the better his chance.

Stone Of Destiny is capable on his day but predicting which is his day is becoming increasingly difficult. He has a slightly disappointing strike rate for one of his ability and he’s only placed once from six handicap runs on triple figure marks so he’s opposable enough. He ideally needs a very strongly run race.

Tone The Barone has an impressive strike rate and has won twice over course and distance from three attempts. He’s been off since April for an unknown reason but has won off this sort of absence before. He was in decent enough form before his break (won over 5f and then didn’t stay 6f). Goes on good ground but probably wouldn’t too much rain.

Snazzy Jazzy is well served by deep ground and further so his run over 5f at York on good ground in listed company last time has to be considered very promising. This stiffer track will suit but it probably won’t be stiff enough unless they get a lot of rain.

Desert Safari ran twice at Glorious Goodwood and caught the eye on both occasions. The ground was probably a bit softer than ideal when he ran over 5f and then he found 6f a bit far in the Steward’s Cup. He’s not been the most consistent this season but is definitely in form, it’s just a case of catching him on a going day. He is however still completely unexposed at 5f on turf and unbeaten in that scenario away from soft ground (from one run).

Summary

Not the deepest of races and TIS MARVELLOUS ticks an awful lot of boxes. He probably doesn’t need to improve on his last two recent efforts here to take this and he’s tactically flexible. If backing him it may be best to wait until it looks like the ground shouldn't be too bad.

There are a lot of ifs and buts about the rest. Desert Safari and to a slightly lesser extent Stone Of Destiny could go close if on a going day, the former makes more appeal of that pair. Tone The Barone could be a big danger if  fit after a break whilst King Of Stars should run well if there is very little rain.

If it was more testing than expected then perhaps Snazzy Jazzy and Count D'Orsay would be the ones to concentrate on as most of the market fancies seem to want decent ground.

1.25 – Shergar Cup Stayers – 2m

Here’s the pace map for this contest, and there isn’t seemingly a whole lot of pace in this race so it may not be a severe stamina test.

Hochfeld looks most likely to go forward with Call My Bluff potentially happy to track the Mark Johnston runner. It would be no surprise to see this develop into a bit of a sprint finish so a stayer with a bit of speed might be best here.

The two most likely pace angles fit that bill to a certain extent but Hochfeld is inconsistent and his better runs this season haven’t really worked out whilst Call My Bluff will want a lot of rain, potentially more than they get.

Uber Cool looks likely to go off favourite. He returned from a whopping 959 day break at Chester in May with a comfortable victory and a long break since (70 days) has presumably been the plan in an attempt to avoid the dreaded bounce factor. The ground doesn’t seem to bother him whichever way it goes and he’s won an impressive seven of his fourteen starts. He’s 4lbs higher than when beating Elegiac in 2018 and that runner quickly went up 10lbs in the rating so he looks well handicapped from that run. He has been beaten three of the four times he’s raced at two miles or further thought, but he has won over this trip at Goodwood (just held on) and this might not be too much of a stamina test, especially if there isn’t lots of rain.

Island Brave won this race last season but that was a shock, he’s 6lbs higher here and hasn’t been in as good form this season. He was 4th in the Northumberland Plate last time out but that was a different surface and the form hasn’t worked out.

East Asia seemingly improved for the switch to turf this season and won three on the trot on ground ranging from soft to good. He isn’t as good on the all weather so is forgiven a flop at Newcastle next time but he bounced back to form over two furlongs shy of this trip on the fastest ground he’s encountered to date. That was a hotter race than this and he should improve for slightly easier ground and the step back up in trip here. He might not be done winning yet and whilst he should be okay on good ground, any more rain will help him further.

Indianapolis is a horse I selected in these previews a couple of weeks back at Newbury and he ran well enough in fifth given he was given too much to do. A return to a more prominent ride should suit and not only has he won at this meeting before, he was also in good form here two starts ago on good to soft ground and the winner and runner up have both come out of that race and run very well. Might not quite be up to winning but looks likely to be in the shake up.

Summary

Uber Cool is probably the one to beat but he might not want this to be too much of a test and he’s clearly been difficult to train so has become a riskier betting proposition.

I’s rather back either EAST ASIA or Indianapolis each way with the former making a bit more appeal as a likely winner. I respect Uber Cool enough to probably include him in some forecasts and tricasts with the other pair.

Call My Bluff would definitely be considered on good to soft or worse but even then East Asia is just as comfortable on that ground and possibly still better handicapped so an each way bet on the selection seems a safe play.

2.00 – Shergar Cup Challenge – 12f

Another pace map to look at, this time racing over 12f.

Torcello would be the only guaranteed pace here except he’s not guaranteed as he’s 2nd reserve and needs two non runners to get a run. Restorer did make the running on his penultimate start but normally tracks the pace so Group One Power could be the one who goes on. He has led early on his last three runs at this trip. It seems unlikely they’ll go hard so tactical speed and/or a prominent position could be important.

Sam Cooke had been struggling with keenness in his races but seemed to settle better in a hood last time out and ran his best race for some time as a result. He was a length and a quarter behind Group One Power that day at Chester and is 1lb better off here. He’s run well here before, is still lightly enough raced and has leading form claims. He might not settle if they go a slow gallop though and he'll want a fair bit of rain to fall to be at his absolute best.

Group One Power probably wouldn’t have beaten Sam Cooke last time out had that race been run over this trip instead of half a furlong shorter. He might have gone a little fast early in that race though as the other runners that were prominent early finished 6th, 7th and 10th, so to be beaten just half a length was a sound performance. He should be well placed in this and has run well here before twice. Joe Fanning is probably a lucky jockey draw given he knows very well how to set the fractions from the front.

HMS President ran on Thursday so could be a non runner in this. He ran well in a strong race at Windsor over half a furlong shorter on his penultimate start but didn’t conclusively prove his stamina that day. He’s not badly handicapped and was in good form on Thursday but could be found wanting late on if he does turn up here, for all he’s respected.

Spanish Kiss won a very hot York handicap in May (2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th have all won since) but he too has won again since, by a wide margin, and now finds himself 16lbs higher. He ran okay here in a decent race a few weeks ago but dropping back in trip might not be ideal plus the handicapper might now have him.

C’Est No Mour seems overpriced given he’s won two of his last three and was a little unlucky last time out. His win at Goodwood in June has worked out well with the runner up and 3rd both winning next time out. C’Est No Mour is only 4lbs higher here but that was over two furlongs further than this. He’s won on anything ranging from good to soft up to good to firm but is probably better on faster ground. He’s fairly handicapped but hasn’t placed in four runs here and his run style may leave him vulnerable here.

Summary

Much will depend on the ground here. GROUP ONE POWER is better than the bare result of his last few runs and could get a very easy lead in this for a good front running jockey. If the ground goes to good to soft Sam Cooke would probably be preferred whilst C’Est No Mour will probably be seen running on too late.

2.35 - Shergar Cup Mile – 1m

The pace map for this race, which is on the round course, not the straight course.

Corazon Espinado is the most likely pace angle but he’s a reserve for this and needs two to come out so he’s unlikely to get a run. In his absence Lord Rapscallion could lead but he’s not a guaranteed pace maker. Data Protection often makes the running but he was held up last time out and this is a shorter trip than he usually races over so he might not have the pace to lay up with them here. Vintager often only tracks the pace so he might not add much to the early speed meaning we are probably looking at no better than an even pace.

Dance Fever is the relatively warm favourite after a 3rd place in the much more competitive International Stakes here last time out over 7f. He’s up another 4lbs here, will be racing on slower ground (he’s been kept to very fast ground in his career so far) and has been beaten in both starts over a mile. Hopefully the rain doesn’t cause him to become a non runner because he’s opposable and helps make the market.

Dashing Roger likes to race prominently and enjoys plenty of cut in the ground. He bounced back to form two starts ago, winning at Sandown. He went up 6lbs for that but the runner up has won since. He was 3rd off a 1lb lower mark on good to soft last time out, the winner was 4th in the Golden Mile at Goodwood and the 4th won a competitive handicap there with ease so that was pretty strong form. He’s maybe slightly in the grip of the handicapper now but should run very well again from a decent early position if the word ‘soft’ appears in the going description.

Vintager has hit form in his last couple of starts but he won a fairly poor race at Windsor and then was a little unlucky on his latest start in an average race. If the ground doesn't soften much he could run okay. Of much more interest at a bigger price would be course specialist Raising Sand. He won this race comfortably back in 2017 and has four wins and a further four places at Ascot. It had looked like age had caught up with him until cheekpieces went on in the Buckingham Palace Stakes in June. He was drawn on the wrong side that day but still finished 6th overall and he ‘won’ on his side, finishing ahead of ten other runners. Last time out he ran in the International Stakes and he was 8th, 3rd in his centre group. He’s now 5lbs and 3lbs lower respectively from those races and crucially will get easier ground here. He’s never won on good to firm ground and those recent efforts are probably as well as he’s ever run on fast ground. He's now 12lbs lower than his highest mark (two years ago) and 6lbs below his last winning mark. He's raced more prominently than usual in the cheekpieces and that should help here.

Ouzo ran a very good 4th here in the Royal Hunt Cup and never got a clear run so could be marked up but he was perhaps flattered by racing close to the stands’ side rail that day as that looked easily a career best on ground that would have been plenty fast enough. He didn’t back that up next time out when behind Dashing Roger at Salisbury. He’s only 2lbs higher than when winning at York last season but he needs very soft ground to be at his absolute best.

Summary

RAISING SAND looks a pretty obvious one and I’m surprised, given his Ascot record, he’s not much shorter in the betting. Good to soft might be absolutely perfect over this trip but even good ground should be enough for him to go close. On good ground Vintager could be the one who gives him most to do.

If the word ‘soft’ did appear in the going description Dashing Roger would be worth including in a forecast whilst Ouzo would come into the reckoning if it did get very testing.

3.10 – Shergar Cup Classic – 12f

Here's the pace map for this 3yo race.

This could be the most truly run race of the day with three last time out leaders and another that has made the running in one of their last two starts. There are no reserves in this race.

Mark Johnston has a total of three entered in this, including State Of Bliss. That runner ran a blinder in what should be a warm Goodwood handicap but that was his fourth second place in six runs. He’s still lightly raced but is beginning to look like one of those that struggles to get its head in front. Johnston did win this in 2019 with a similar type though. Annandale almost certainly wants further and Harlem Soul needs to bounce back from two poorer runs.

Barn Owl is the early favourite. He scrambled home in a Ripon novice in June but that form has been franked with the runner up, who got 5lbs from Barn Owl, winning a handicap since. That runner up is now rated 82 so Barn Owl probably isn’t badly treated off 84. He looked like this trip might suit when runner up at Sandown on seasonal debut but that didn’t look a strong race and rain probably wouldn’t suit (withdrawn on good to soft at Goodwood).

Possible Man won a decent novice in December but he’s had some limitations exposed since then. He did win last time out off just a 1lb lower mark, just beating State Of Bliss who is 2lbs worse off here so unlikely to reverse form. Stamina doesn’t look guaranteed and he was last of four when facing soft ground so rain is unlikely to help him either. Seems to be one to take on.

Sky Cutter seems quite a tricky type who gives trouble before races. He’s proven over this trip and on ground with some cut in it (he’d probably want lots of rain) and has finished runner up on both starts in the UK, for all the form of those races doesn’t look anything special. He was given an enterprising ride last time out and almost got away with it but he’s likely to have more competition for the lead here. One of the more proven runners at the very least.

Star Calibre couldn’t take advantage of weight for age against elders here last time out over two miles despite having the run of the race and he’s now looking a bit tripless.

Contact is more exposed than a few of these but he has a likeable profile. He enjoyed the step up to this trip at Pontefract, winning by 5.5 lengths, and although raised 8lbs for that he was still a creditable 5th on testing ground at Haydock trying 14f for the first time in what is normally a strong race. The very soft ground that day probably didn’t suit and whilst Contact should enjoy that trip again in the future, a strong gallop at this distance might be perfect for now. A good ride for Mickaelle Michel.

Summary

I’m keen to oppose quite a few of those near the head of the market in this one with some form question marks and definitely ground question marks if there is more than a little rain.

Sky Cutter seems solid, especially if the ground softens appreciably, but he needs to step up again on his previous form and he’d have made more appeal if an easier lead looked likely. CONTACT will need a bit of luck in running but if they go hard early as expected it could play into his hands and he’s take to finish fast and late at a decent price. One of the more difficult races though.

3.45 – Shergar Cup Sprint – 6f

The pace map for the final race on the card.

There are a couple of pace angles here so the race should be run at a decent clip. Bowman has looked far better on fast ground (or artificial surfaces) to date so there is the chance he is pulled out after some rain, although he’s been allowed to take his chance on soft ground before so seems likely to run and help set this up for something a little more patiently ridden.

If there is a non runner Crazy Luck would look fairly interesting. He’s shown good form with cut in the ground and bumped into another progressive sort last time out. The main reason for non runners here could be softening ground so the likelihood is if he gets a run, he’ll probably get his ground too.

Slightly unsurprinsgly though the three who are clear in the betting look those open to most progress though.

Royal Scimitar is completely unexposed at sprint trips. He won over 6f on his debut (runner up now rated 110) but raced over further until dropping back to this trip last time out in a hotly contested handicap restricted to 3yos at the July Festival. He’s 5lbs better off with Popmaster having finished a short head behind that rival in 4th but softening ground would be a concern - he’s been a non runner on good to soft and soft this season. He pulled away from his group in that Newmarket handicap in good style, only beaten by much higher drawn rivals, so could be a good thing if the rain stays away.

Popmaster’s best hope of beating Royal Scimitar has to be the rain. He seems pretty versatile with regards to the ground but is arguably better on slightly softer ground, he even ran well on heavy here during the Royal Meeting over what seems to be an inadequate 5f from a poor draw. His form in 6f handicaps reads 32231 and he’s still only 11lbs higher than when bumping into both Rohaan and Diligent Harry in a Lingfield handicap in March, that pair are now rated 25lbs and 20lbs higher respectively. He still looks feasibly handicapped, is very consistent, is proven at the course and won’t mind any rain.

If it does rain heavily Dream Composer is the potential fly in the ointment for Popmaster. He was 2 lengths ahead of Popmaster at Royal Ascot and he’s now 4lbs better off. He may have been much better drawn than Popmaster that day but he actually ended up making his challenge on the same part of the course and finished much more strongly so should be well enough fancied to confirm that form with the extra furlong looking a big positive. He was actually supposed to face Popmaster last time out at Doncaster but was a non runner because of the good to soft ground, perhaps an indication that he wants it really soft. He did seem to enjoy the heavy ground at Ascot after all.

Summary

Picking between the three favourites seems quite tricky and it has to be an extremely ground dependent decision. If there is very little rain and the ground is no worse than good then Royal Scimitar could be chanced, but even 4-5mm of rain might be too much for him to show his best as he seems to get on well with very fast ground.

POPMASTER is the least ground dependent of the trio and should run well whatever happens but ground just on the soft side of good could suit him perfectly, especially as it would probably be too slow for Royal Scimitar and too fast for Dream Composer.

On good to soft or worse Dream Composer might be narrowly favoured over Popmaster but even good to soft ground might be deemed too fast for connections of Dream Composer, even if he did win on good to soft at Carlisle earlier this term beating two subsequent winners in the process.

I’ve predicted good ground so I’ll stick with Popmaster but out of all the races on this card this is the one where the slightest going change would sway my decision more than any other so it may pay to wait until closer to the race or until the likely forecast is clearer.

Glorious Goodwood Preview: Farasi Lane Offers Value In Saturday’s Opener

Saturday’s 1.20pm at Goodwood, a 7f, class 2 handicap for the classic generation, is a race where there should be some strong course biases on display so it looks a good race to cover this week. The Geegeez Gold data should help us narrow this field down significantly.

These previews have to be written early which means there is always some guesswork involved with the ground when there is an uncertain forecast. The assumption at the time of writing is that the ground will be good, maybe just on the fast side of good.

All of the data used below is available through a Geegeez Gold subscription. Click here to get your first 30 days of Geegeez Gold for just £1.

Draw

There is normally a pretty strong bias around the bend over the 7f course at Goodwood, this isn’t the biggest field (11 runners) so will the draw have an impact on this contest?

There certainly still seems to be a bias towards those drawn low, even in this mid sized field. High draws win half as often as middle draws who in turn win around three quarters as often as low draws. The place data follows a similar trend and the PRB figures for low, middle and high are 0.54, 0.50 and 0.46 respectively.

The individual draw data tells us that there is a steady decline in performance the further from the inside rail you are drawn with stall 1 generating the best PRB figure and the highest stall generating the worst PRB. Stall 2 performs best for both wins and places.

In this field size every stall certainly has a chance of winning but it’s pretty clear that a lower draw gives an advantage and ideally you probably don’t want to be drawn higher than about 7.

Pace

We saw a fair sized draw advantage over this course and distance, what about a pace bias?

A fairly significant bias again, this time leaning towards those ridden nearer the pace. The win percentage data largely supports an argument that the closer you are to the pace the more chance you have of winning and the place percentage data backs that up completely with front running doing best (50% place strike rate), prominent doing next best (33.12%), then mid division (24.75%) followed by held up (21.11%).

The difference in percentages is around 17%, then around 8%, then around 3%, so the advantage seems to be growing exponentially the closer to the pace you are and front runners enjoy a big edge here.

Interestingly backing both front runners and prominent racers blind for both win and place is profitable so it looks as though we want something that races near the pace or something that looks extremely well handicapped if it’s going to be patiently ridden.

Pace Map

A strong pace here could swing things back in favour of the more patiently ridden contingent so we should take a look at the pace map.

There are three pace angles in this race so we could get an at least evenly run contest but those pace angles occupy the three highest stalls. Their best hope is to get across early so we could see a very quick first furlong with three wide drawn front runners all attacking from the gates to get the ideal position on the inside rail.

There seems to be a distinct lack of prominent racers so if you wanted to back something near the early lead then there are only three real contenders for this according to the pace map. Farasi Lane looks most likely to be the one that tracks the front three.

Draw and Pace Combination

With strong draw AND pace biases here we’ll presumably see a big advantage to low drawn front runners, of which we don’t seem to have any.

As predicted, the best place to be as far as finishing ahead of rivals is on the front end from a low draw. It’s interesting to note that leaders from high draws don’t have a good record. They must have to use too much fuel early to get that position from their draw and with all three front runners likely to go fast competing for that early lead we could end up seeing all three fade late on.

Those that are drawn high seem best off racing in mid division, although dropping them out isn’t a major disadvantage either. If you are drawn in the middle you can gain an advantage by front running but all other run styles seem fairly similar in terms of result. As for low draws, front running is obviously best of all and then there isn’t much difference between being prominent or mid division but the low draw advantage is nullified if a horse is held up. This is because they are unlikely to get a clear run on the rail and if they switch they have to go around the entire field.

Applying these findings to the pace map, Quintillus and Seven Brothers have actually got relatively good draws for their run styles, whereas Spirit Of Bermuda, Just Frank and Red Mirage do not.

Farasi Lane probably has the best run style from the low draws and you wouldn’t want to rule out Run For Freedom solely because of draw and pace. Master Zoffany and Shark Two One look likely to forfeit their draw advantage by being most patiently ridden.

The Runners

Here are the runners, in early odds order, from most fancied to least fancied.

Quintillus

Hasn’t fared well with the draw but likely to be fairly patiently ridden anyway. He was sent off just 6/4 in a warm Newmarket maiden on debut so has clearly been well thought of at home. He could only manage 4th that day but won easily on his second start, switched to the all weather, hammering Run To Freedom who is now rated 91 and reopposes here. That form makes him look very well handicapped.

He didn’t seem to see a mile out on his next two starts and was subsequently gelded before running much better over that trip in the Britannia Handicap, finishing a close up 3rd. Only four of the first ten home in that race have run since but they’ve produced form figures of 9111 so it’s clear that was a hot race, as it often is. He may well improve over a sharper test here but he is up another 5lbs.

Master Zoffany

Has shown his best form at 7f but also with cut in the ground and a drying surface here may be of a little concern. Both wins this season have come at Chester, beating several subsequent winners off a 9lbs lower mark and a couple of subsequent placers off a 3lb lower mark last time. Just Frank was 0.75 lengths behind that day and is 3lb better off here.

The feeling is Master Zoffany can win again but his inside draw here means he either has to go the brave man’s route which will more likely than not result in traffic problems or he’ll have to circle the entire field. That combined with the fact the ground might not have enough juice in it is reason to oppose at the price for all he is one to be positive about in the future.

Spirit Of Bermuda

Ran a good 4th in a hot Newmarket handicap in April.

The winner is now rated 22lbs higher, the runner up has won his only start since, the 3rd won next time out by over 3 lengths and the 5th has since won a race by 6 lengths. The 6th has also won since.

He blotted his copy book when refusing to race next time but has won both starts since, seeming to relish the drop back to this 7f. That latest win is working out well with the 2nd and 8th winning next time out and the 6th finishing runner up on his next start so a 2lb rise for that looks very lenient and he’s still only 7lbs higher than that run in the hot Newmarket handicap in April. Fast ground seems quite important so drying ground will improve his chances and the only real negative is the wide draw but at least he’s lowest drawn of the potential pace angles.

Dark Shift

Hasn’t gone on as expected since winning a soft ground Nottingham novice in May and had looked well handicapped off this sort of mark on a couple of bits of form. A fast 6f at York probably didn’t suit ideally and others who ran well from off the pace in that race have been winning or running well since but he was still a bit disappointing at Ascot’s stiffer 6f with the ground seemingly in his favour last time. This step up in trip will need to bring about plenty of improvement but drying ground might not be ideal and neither is his run style.

Just Frank

Habitual front runner who is closely matched with Master Zoffany on Chester form. He’s run since then, finishing 3rd at Doncaster on ground that might have been a bit faster than ideal. First time cheekpieces go on here which means his performance could go either way. An easy 7f with a bit of cut in the ground is probably going to prove ideal but this race is normally won by something far more progressive, for all he isn’t badly handicapped.

Farasi Lane

Reacted well to first time cheekpieces in November, winning a handicap comfortably, so it was a surprise to see that headgear dispensed with for his next three runs. He was only narrowly beaten here on one of those and was a creditable 2nd at Newmarket (4th and 6th won since) but upped his form again last time with cheekpieces reapplied, winning a decent Sandown handicap comfortably. He’s now won nicely twice on the two occasions he’s worn this headgear and it stays on this time.

He's up 5lbs but he was far superior in that last race and the 2nd and 3rd have both finished runner up since so the form of that run is okay. He’s been ridden a bit more aggressively than usual in the headgear so he may well be prominent here from a good draw. Most of his form is with a bit of cut but he was only beaten a short head here on good to firm earlier this season leaving him with very few questions to answer.

Oo De Lally

Split two progressive types over course and distance on soft ground in May and won a decent Newcastle handicap over this trip on his next start off a 2lb higher mark. Was raised 4lbs for that and then pitched into listed company at Chester on his next start, running below form and finishing last, beaten 12 lengths. The draw was against him but doesn’t really explain a performance quite that bad. He’s the type to bounce back but he does now have something to prove, especially on what could be faster ground.

Run To Freedom

Both runs this season have come at Sandown, runner up on the first of those in a race that was almost certainly weaker than this and then a well beaten 6th behind Farasi Lane last time out. He was sent off favourite for that and should be better than that form but neither of the runs this season are likely to be good enough to win this.

Red Mirage

Won his first three starts but paid for an easy Kempton handicap win with an 11lb rise in the weights and he’s been beaten 5 lengths and 10 lengths. That latter effort was his only run on turf and it was his worse effort to date plus he’s badly drawn so he looks very opposable, for all he could be one of those Mark Johnston horses that bounces back from a poor run or two.

Shark Two One

Sent off at 50/1 and 5.5 lengths behind Master Zoffany last time out. That was his best run this season but it still seems he’s not as good as last season and therefore badly handicapped on those efforts last term. Also a non runner on fast ground this season and all his best form is on much more testing ground so opposable again here.

Seven Brothers

Won three of seven starts including seasonal debut in April off this mark, beating the well handicapped Popmaster. Much better than the bare result at Newmarket on his next start in a hot handicap but ran poorly at York on his next start. Blinkers went on for the first time last time out in a hot Newmarket sprint handicap and although only 11th and beaten 4.75 lengths he still finished his race off well enough. The blinkers aren’t retained here.

He's fairly handicapped on a couple of bits of form this season and therefore looks a big price but he does have to prove a step up in trip is what he wants. He is bred for sprinting so he’ll probably need to lower his sights a little at 6f rather than going up to this distance in order to get his fourth career win.

The Verdict

The trio who make most appeal here are Quintillus, Spirit Of Bermuda and Farasi Lane.

Had Spirit Of Bermuda had a much lower draw he’d be a pretty confident selection as he’d have a great chance of making all. The record of wide drawn front runners over this course and distance is just about enough to put me off at the price, wide drawn leaders haven’t even had a place in five attempts in the data sample used in the Draw Analyser.

Quintillus will probably improve for the drop in trip and the Britannia Handicap is working out nicely. He’s clearly been well regarded and he has a massive form chance. He’s not well drawn in 8 though and although his run style might nullify that bad draw, being held up here is a disadvantage so against some decent opposition he’ll need to be extremely well handicapped. At the price I can let him win.

The one with seemingly everything possibly in his favour is FARASI LANE. He’s a bit more exposed than some of these but he’s well drawn, proven at the course, won a decent race last time out, came 2nd in a hot race on his penultimate start and crucially nothing has got near him in two starts with these cheekpieces on. He’s as big as 10/1 in places at the time of writing and that just looks far too big as an each way bet in what should be a very good race.

These three runners will be ridden by the three jockeys in this race with the most wins at this venue in the past couple of years so they’ll all be in good hands to give their running.

Sky Bet Dash Preview: Lightly Raced Streamline Looks Value Play

A top day of racing on Saturday and I’m spoiled for choice with choosing which live race to cover. From a betting perspective it’s the big field handicaps that grab my attention which makes it a choice between York’s Sky Bet Dash and Ascot’s International Stakes. I’ll probably be having a stronger wager in the latter but Ascot are due thunderstorms on Saturday so it’s going to be a waiting game to see how the ground turns out. York is set to be dry according to early forecasts so previewing the Sky Bet Dash should be a bit more straight forward at this stage.

The race is due off at 2.40 and unless the weather forecast changes it is set to be run on fast ground.

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Draw

A pretty good sample size here and the data suggests an edge towards those drawn lower. The win data is pretty evenly matched but the place percentages favour low heavily, followed by middle and then high. This is backed up with the PRB data, low draws having a PRB of 0.53, middle draws 0.49 and high draws 0.48.

When you watch the sprints at York the winners nearly always seem to finish in the middle of the track so it seems slightly surprising that middle draws don’t come out best. If anything more runners seem to race along the near side rail (high) than the far side rail (low) so again it’s a bit surprising low numbers seem to outperform high by so much.

Perhaps the individual stall data can shed more light on this.

Ignoring stall 21, which has only been used once, the top four individual stalls as far as PRB are concerned are 2, 6, 4 and 3 in that order. Some of the higher stalls have performed well but the worst five stalls individually using PRB as the metric are 9 or higher which certainly suggests lower is better overall.

Determining a draw advantage isn’t just about showing that some stalls perform better than others, how much better they are is the really important aspect. Looking at the PRB3 figures the majority of the lower to middle stalls are around 0.53 and the majority of the middle to higher stalls are around 0.49 so whilst it looks a bit of an advantage to be lower it’s clearly not a huge disadvantage to be amongst the higher stalls.

Pace

I’m fairly certain we’ll some some strong data here.

Anyone who bets fairly regularly on the York straight track will know it favours speed. More winners than any other run style come from the rear but they provide a much bigger sample. In terms of win percentages, a big looking 11.54% of early leaders triumph compared to 4.59% for prominent, 4.68% for mid division and 5.24% for held up. That’s a big advantage for front runners as far as winning is concerned, but is it the same for place percentages?

Once again the top place percentage is with front runners (34.62%) whilst prominent racers have a 21.62% place strike rate. It’s 18.3% for mid division and 20.27% for held up. The main difference between the data seems to be mid division is second best for win purposes but worst of all for place bets. The figures are closely matched though and it does look as though the front is the place to be where possible with prominent a bit of an advantage over the remaining run styles but perhaps not as advantaged other them as expected. I certainly thought prominent which be far more favoured than held up.

Sky Bet Handicap Pace Map

So which of these are most likely to lead early on?

There are four main pace angles in this, spread fairly nicely across the track. The low pace should come from Giogiobbo and Manigordo with central pace provided by Muscika and high pace from Flying Pursuit.

There seems to be a lack of prominent racers with Streamline, Admirality and Blind Beggar likely to track the above mentioned quartet.

The remaining runners look as though they’ll be played fairly late.

Draw and Pace Combination

I’ve mentioned before how much I value this part of the draw data in Geegeez Gold, it gives an extra layer of insight into draw and pace, especially when there are strong draw or pace biases.

A real standout advantage for those who make the running from a middle draw. That’s a big tick for Muscika who just happened to win this last year.

The worst place to be is mid division from a middle draw, that would be the area where you are most likely to find yourself surrounded by rivals with nowhere to go so that makes perfect sense.

If you are drawn low you are generally best off being close to the pace and performance tails off very slightly the further back in the field you are. Those drawn high see less fluctuations in performance based on run style.

The Runners

Here are the main contenders, in early odds order.

Mondammej

He's run in some tough handicaps this season, often well fancied, but has been beaten on his last six starts, placing in four of those. His worst performances came at Chester on good to soft and York on soft, both over 5f, and this will be a very different test over the extra furlong on much better ground.

He is running out of excuses though. The ground will have been against him several times and at Newcastle when runner up to the progressive Ejtilaab he did best of those held up and best of those in the centre of the track. Last time out seemed to be as good as he is but to be fair he was only beaten half a length and the ground might still have been a little softer than ideal. He stayed on as though another furlong will suit and we may see Significantly and/or Tis Marvellous frank that form on Friday afternoon.

He ran well here in May on good ground, with the 5f looking inadequate and overall he looks very likely to run his race and run well. This could be last chance saloon for backers though if he doesn't get his head in front.

Giogiobbo

Rated 103 when he came to England two and a half years ago but after a winless two seasons he dropped to a mark of 67. He’s taken full advantage of that this season winning all three starts (all at Doncaster) and although he’s never run here at York, his front running style will be ideally suited to this venue.

He’s still 'only' gone up 11lbs this season for his three wins which is reasonable, putting him on a mark of 78. It’s a complete stretch to suggest he’s still got the best part of 20lbs in hand given his rating two years ago as he’s an 8yo now but he could have a bit more left in the tank. This is a much tougher race than those he’s contested this season though.

Golden Apollo

Having his 14th run here on Saturday. He generally runs well here but often finishes just outside of the places. He’s run into form in his last couple of starts, a little unlucky not to grab a win in either.

He was 2nd in this race last year off a 3lb higher mark, 4th two years ago off a 2lb higher mark and 2nd off a 6lb higher mark three years ago. Three of his four places here have come in this race, the other coming when winning the hot 3yo handicap run in June the previous year. This course and distance, at this time of year, clearly suit him. In fact 11 of his last 13 places have come in either June, July or August so he clearly just takes a little warming up each season.

Music Society

Not the easiest to win with (only one win in the past two seasons) but did get his head in front at Pontefract this season and is generally consistent. He was 7th in this last season off a 3lb lower mark but goes into the race in better form this season having been beaten just a nose in the Scottish Stewards’ Cup last time out at Hamilton. He’s possibly slightly better with an uphill finish though and he did flop here just a couple of weeks ago.

Flying Pursuit

Won this in 2017 and 2018 and was 5th in 2019, all with plenty of cut in the ground. He hasn’t even managed to place on ground that was good or better since 2017. He’s presumably been entered in the hope of thunderstorms but as things stand he looks far more likely to be scratched than to get near the places.

Gulliver

Goes well here, in fact all four of his turf wins have come on the Knavesmire. He has won over course and distance on fast ground but that was in 2019 and he seems better with cut in the ground these days – his last two wins here came on soft ground in October. He looked far too slow here in May in a similar race on good to soft off a 2lb higher mark and is likely to be making up late ground at best here. One to watch out for here in October chasing the hat trick (assuming soft ground at that meeting).

Streamline

Lightly raced 4yo who has mostly featured on the all weather but he won on debut on turf and ran to a fair level here as a 2yo in a listed race, ticking the important course form box. His only poor run came at Kempton in March and he subsequently missed three months of action but made a satisfactory return behind Mondammej and he’s now 5lbs better off for a length defeat.

Blind Beggar

The sole 3yo in the line up and ran well in the big 3yo handicap over course and distance last month, finishing a better than the bare result 6th on fast ground. His best form before that had come on softer ground and it’s entirely possible he’ll prove even better when there is a bit more dig. A reproduction of that 6th could see him go close here though. The 2nd and 7th have both won since and he was ridden with more restraint that day than is normally the case so could improve with a more prominent ride.

Only 10th last time at Newmarket but that was also on fast ground in a hot 3yo handicap and he wasn’t beaten much further than at York. Looks capable of running well but might need rain before he can win a race of this nature.

Venturous

Consistently running well but finishing just outside of the places at the moment, a strong sign that he probably isn’t well handicapped. He’s not far off his career high turf mark and is 12lbs higher than his last turf win. Most his wins are at 5f but an easy 6f is within his range. He stayed on from a poor position here in May and has run several good races here but he’ll do well to get into the places in this for all he shouldn’t run at all badly.

George Bowen

Not always the most consistent with slow starts often hampering his chances and this isn’t a course where you want to forfeit ground early. He did win a similar race to this by 6 lengths here in 2017 but he’s never gone close to matching that sort of form here again, managing no better than 5th in seven course and distance runs since. Capable on his day but not one to put too much faith in.

Muscika

Last year’s winner is ideally drawn to attack in the middle here and is only 1lb higher than when taking this twelve months ago. He’s been inconsistent this season but got within a neck of beating Ejtilaab (won next time out) at Epsom in June off a 1lb higher mark and although 7th of 8 last time out, he was only beaten 2 lengths off a 2lb higher mark.

The case for a good run possibly relies on a switch in headgear and a return to this venue. He wore blinkers when winning this year but wasn’t in as good form in the two runs either side of that in the same headgear. There is no obvious correlation between what headgear works for Muscika and it’s probably just that he’s quite an inconsistent horse. He has been more consistent here though producing form figures of 221010 on his last six runs at York.

Admirality

Difficult to win with and has struggled for much consistency this season. Fast ground suits well and he's run well here before but he’s probably better over 7f and even at his best he tends to finish as the runner up – he’s finished 2nd on six occasions since his last victory.

Manigordo

Returned to form last time out at Redcar (2nd) after a couple of lesser displays and his run style is suited to this course for all he has run poorly twice here this season in two attempts. The race he ran well in on Sunday was a much lesser event than this but he did push a potentially very well handicapped runner close.

This might be a bit too hot and his course form is a worry, for all it might just have been a couple of off days (ran just as poorly at Thirsk last month having won there in April).

Mokaatil

Surprise Epsom Dash winner and although he has run many times over 6f his best form seems to come at the minimum trip. Has seemed badly handicapped since winning at Epsom and his best chance of defying this sort of mark may come at that venue again, he’s two from three there.

Typhoon Ten

A bit unlucky to not get his head in front this year given he’s been beaten both a nose and a short head. His sole turf win came off a 2lb lower mark at Windsor and he doesn’t look to have the form to land a race this competitive.

Lahore

Won here over 5f last year off a 1lb higher mark and ran okay in the Ayr Gold Cup last season when 6th off a 4lb higher mark. His run style does leave him with plenty to do here but he has a fair course record, although not quite running up to his mark last time out in listed company here. Capable of outrunning his odds but would need to bounce back to his best to be in the shake up.

The Verdict

An amazingly difficult puzzle to figure out and it’s much easier to list the runners that I think are least likely to place than to finish in the money. For the record they are Music Society, Flying Pursuit, Gulliver, Venturous, George Bowen, Admirality, Manigordo, Mokaatil, Typhoon Ten and Lahore.

The above is based on good to firm ground. I’m not expecting the ground to soften but if it did get really testing Gulliver could be the one, whilst on good or softer I’d be far keener on Blind Beggar than on good to firm. If you can get as many as six places in this I wouldn’t at all be opposed to backing Blind Beggar each way, even on fast ground, but I think he’ll struggle to win this on good to firm so he only makes so much appeal.

I can’t rule out Giogiobbo but this is a big step up and all his form this season is at Doncaster - this could just be too tough for him.

As long as the ground stays fast, Blind Beggar is reluctantly passed over for win purposes leaving the shortlist as Mondammej, Golden Apollo, Streamline and Muscika.

Golden Apollo has a great record in this race, is in form and well handicapped. It all seems a bit too obvious doesn’t it? He’s probably at his best at this time of year and in big fields. He’s maybe drawn a little higher than absolutely ideal but looks guaranteed to run a big race. My feeling is he’ll find one or two too good again but he should be a safe each way bet once again.

Muscika would probably win this if able to reproduce Epsom form from last month but he’s just too inconsistent. He’s not really an each way proposition given that inconsistency, even at 16/1, but given his run style, draw and course record he's worth a win only saver whatever you fancy to win this.

That leaves Mondammej and Streamline. Mondammej is another that looks nailed on to run his race in what are probably pretty much ideal conditions (has raced on softer ground most of this season, and over shorter) but he’s very well found in the market and he’s drawn very wide in 15. If Flying Pursuit is pulled out because of the ground he’ll lose a pacemaker on his side and it could be another case of close but no cigar.

At around twice the price I’d rather side with STREAMLINE. He’s handicapped to beat Mondammej on their recent meeting and although most of his form is on artificial surfaces he has run to a good level on turf and has even placed in listed company here at York. He races far more prominently than Mondammej so is less of a hostage to fortune. He too is drawn a bit higher than ideal but he’ll go forward so may find it easier to get a better, more central position and is likely to be less reliant on the other pace around him to take him into the race.

Indianapolis Overpriced In Newbury Staying Handicap

Hardly a vintage weekend of racing, even with the Irish Oaks taking place at the Curragh, and personally speaking the only live heat to make any betting appeal is the 2 mile handicap at Newbury, due off at 2.25pm.

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Draw

Draw advantages often diminish over longer trips, is there anything in the draw over 2 miles at Newbury though?

Only a small sample size here so the win percentages are of little to no interest. The place percentages suggest low is advantageous with a place percentage of 28.57% compared to 17.78% for middle and 23.81% for high.

The PRB data should be a bit more reliable in a small sample than place data and that again suggests low is best of all but the PRB is only 0.51 with middle next best at 0.50 and high showing up at 0.48.

There seems no real trend looking at the individual stall data so it seems safe to assume it’s a pretty level playing field as far as the draw is concerned.

Pace

It’s going to be another small sample but does the data suggest any sort of pace bias here?

The lack of depth to the data suggests we shouldn’t get carried away here but what data there is does imply that patiently ridden runners could have an advantage. That’s not a massive surprise given Newbury has a long straight which should allow most runners time to get a clear run and time to get fully wound up.

Mid division comes out best in terms of place percentages and comfortably so with this run style generating a place strike rate of 35.71%. Next best is held up at 24% which isn’t too far ahead of prominent at 20.59%. Front runners have performed worst of all at 9.09%.

All other things being equal it may well pay to support something coming from the rear half of the field in this.

Pace Map

Let’s take a look at the pace map for this contest.

There isn’t a lot of pace forecast for this race with Withhold, a previous winner of this race, likely to get a fairly comfortable time of things up front. Mildenberger and Call My Bluff seem most likely to apply pressure but both are likely to be content tracking the pace.

With a pretty steady gallop here much of the course bias pace data could go out of the window. It certainly seems that runners that appreciate a strong test of stamina could be inconvenienced with the speedier stayers perhaps the ones to concentrate on.

The Runners

Here are all thirteen runners, in early odds order.

Zeeband

Still very lightly raced and comfortable winner of the Northumberland Plate consolation race a few weeks ago. He’s gone up 8lbs for that but the step up to two miles for the first time brought about a career best and that was also his first run in a visor, which is retained here.

He clearly has the potential to rate higher but it’s worth noting that Zeeband’s best turf runs have come with a fair amount of cut in the ground and it’s likely to be on the fast side of good here. He does seem to have a nice blend of speed and stamina so if the ground is fine a bold show should be expected.

Rodrigo Diaz

Another lightly raced improver who has been better than ever this season. He was unbeaten in handicaps last season, finishing the season with a victory over 14f at Wolverhampton. All of those wins came on the all weather but he’s proved just as good on turf this season, finding only the progressive Aaddeey too good at Newmarket before winning at Doncaster. He beat the improving Duke Of Condicote that day (now 8lbs higher) with a bit to spare so should be capable of defying a 7lb higher mark.

With that in mind it was disappointing he was only 3rd off a 6lb higher mark next time out back at Kempton. He wasn’t ideally placed that day and looked as though going back up to 14f would help but it’s interesting connections have persisted with 12f races after he won at 14f, possibly suggesting they don’t see him as real a stayer. This might not be a thorough test of stamina though and he should still be on a mark he can win off.

Withhold

Won this two years ago and could get an easy lead here. His win in this came off a mark of 107 and he rated as high as 113 but some lacklustre efforts this season have seen him drop to a mark of 105.

Most of last season’s form would give him a decent shout, he got within a length of Trueshan at Salisbury and Trueshan went on to win impressively at Group 2 level. This season though he was beaten 62 lengths at Chester and 17.5 lengths in listed company at Sandown in a race he had previously won. On the form of those runs he has no chance here and he needs more than just an easy lead to bounce back. One to watch in the market as he’s been well backed before victory in the past but difficult to back him with much faith.

Margaret Dumont

Seemed to improve for a switch to artificial surfaces this season for Hugo Palmer having raced exclusively on turf last season for Mark Johnston. She looks a very thorough stayer and ran a good 2nd to Zeeband last time out at Newcastle. Her sole run this season on turf saw her beat 60 lengths though and fast turf was blamed for that defeat so that has to be a concern here.

She did run okay a couple of times on fast ground last season but even that form gives her plenty to find here off a higher mark. She’s not without a chance if transferring that all weather form to turf but on all known turf form she’s very opposable.

Scaramanga

In good form over hurdles earlier this year and a flat rating of 86 does look exploitable compared to a hurdle rating of 151. An 86 day absence isn’t necessarily a concern given he won here over hurdles in March off a 146 day break.

He’s yet to win in ten flat runs though. His form on softer ground can be thrown out as he wants fast ground and his flat form figures on fast ground or the all weather since joining current connections reads 2432. Appeals more as a place only bet if this race has been the plan for him but backing him to win this is a bit of a leap given he’s been so expensive to follow on the flat.

Call My Bluff

Progressive stayer who may be slightly better on turf than artificial surfaces. His form at this trip or further on turf reads 11211 with the one defeat coming against Main Line who was winning his eighth straight race (all codes).

He won by just a neck last time out at Chester and is 3lbs higher here, possibly suggesting the handicapper is catching up with him. He’s probably still well handicapped on soft ground but the major concern here has to be the ground. He’s been pulled out twice this season because of good or good to firm ground and his only run on fast ground to date resulted in a defeat off a 23lbs lower mark.

Just Hubert

Thorough stayer who was 7th in this last year off a 2lb lower mark before winning the 2m4f handicap at Glorious Goodwood. His two best runs in the past year have both come at Goodwood and perhaps he needs a track like that to keep him interested as he seems too slow at most other venues these days. First time cheekpieces go on in a clear attempt to perk him up and they may have the desired effect, but they could just as easily have an adverse effect.

Mildenberger

Rated higher on the all weather than turf and rightly so but is capable of some smart performances on grass. He was 2nd to Roaring Lion in the 2018 Dante Stakes and 3rd in the 2019 Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket. He perhaps hasn’t improved going up in trip on turf like he has on artificial surfaces though and he was a disappointing favourite last time out in the Esher Stakes, for all the ground might have been slightly too slow on that occasion. His turf form at distances further than 12f suggest he’ll do well to win this off 106.

Sleeping Lion

A capable stayer whose last win came off a 7lb lower mark at Kempton in April. A 7lb rise for that win seems harsh and so it proved at Royal Ascot when Sleeping Lion was well beaten, albeit poorly placed. He’s generally struggled to put two good runs together since his 3yo win here three years ago and is therefore rarely a strong betting proposition. When he’s good, he’s very good but not one to put too much faith in and this is a tough task off this mark.

Indianapolis

Without a win since 2019 but finally getting some respite from the handicapper. His form from this time last year would give him a good chance in this – he was 3rd to reliable yardstick Hochfeld over 14f and then 4th in a 17 runner handicap at York, both efforts coming off 10lb higher marks.

This season he showed very little in three runs having moved to Ian Williams in March but last time out he was much better, only 4th of 9 at Ascot but beaten just 2 lengths. Even two runs ago he was only 3.5 lengths being the favourite here Zeeband and he’s now 12lbs better off. There was money for him last time out so an improvement was clearly expected and it will be interesting to see if that money comes again here.

Mancini

Another that improved last time out on some previously lifeless runs this season. Mancini’s last two wins have come off this mark, in 2019 over 2m on fast ground and in 2020 over 14f on fast ground. Every drying moment will be music to connection’s ears. The big doubt is the field size though. All his six wins have come in single digit field sizes, in bigger fields he is 0 from 13.

Global Heat

Improved for a step up to 14f as recently as February, going down just a short head in a Meydan Group 3. He shaped as though worth a try over further that day but didn’t cut any ice behind Subjectivist in the Dubai Gold Cup at that distance. On his return to the UK he was pulled up in testing conditions in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot. It’s probably not best to judge him on that latest effort and he still has scope as a stayer but he’s rated 105 here, is so far unproven at this distance and has some well being questions to answer so he’s not easy to back.

Lucky Deal

After missing 18 months of action he worked his way back to form, winning twice on the all weather either side of the new year. He continued in good form on artificial surfaces but has struggled since on turf. The handicapper hasn’t shown much leniency dropping him just 4lbs for a combined losing distance of over 63 lengths. Blinkers haven’t brought about any improvement and connections now reach for a visor. He’s becoming well handicapped and will bounce back at some point but is difficult to back on current form and needs a real test of stamina to be at his absolute best.

The Verdict

A slightly disappointing turnout for this race with many of these having questions to answer. Zeeband and Rodrigo Diaz are clearly the progressive ones in the field but the former has some ground doubts and doesn’t look worth risking at the price whilst the latter has to prove his stamina. Backing horses going up in distance can be a great angle but he doesn’t look to be crying out for two miles.

It’s probably worth taking a chance on INDIANAPOLIS each way at around 16/1 (most bookies paying 4 places). Ian Williams won this last year at a similar price and this runner is well handicapped on last season’s form, giving hints he was returning to something near his best last time out. He’s capable of racing prominently which might be an advantage with a lack of strong page in this and his form over shorter distances could be an advantage if this turns into a bit of a sprint finish.

Withhold seems unbackable on current form, Margaret Dumont is probably better on the all weather, Scaramanga has been expensive to follow and is yet to win on the flat whilst Call My Bluff would prefer softer ground. The majority of the fancied runners aren’t guaranteed to give their running so Indianapolis has an excellent chance of placing at the very least.

John Smith’s Cup 2021 Preview: Take Pride To Emerge On Top

Plenty of very competitive races to get stuck into on ‘Super Saturday’ but the main race of interest is surely the John Smith’s Cup at York (4.05pm). This is one of my favourite races of the season and it’s often won by a horse capable of mixing it at Group level.

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Draw

A massive field of 22 set to go to post for this one, one of the biggest fields you’ll see go around a bend all season, so is there a draw bias?

According to the data above, there isn’t much between low, middle and high. Middle draws have produced the most winners (13) whilst there is little between low and high from a win perspective (9 and 10 respectively).

There isn't much between the place percentage data either. Middle draws once again have a very slight edge with a 20% place strike rate but low comes in at 21.94% with high draws not far behind at 20.41%.

The PRB data also backs up the suggestion that there isn’t much of a draw bias with low draws producing a PRB of 0.50, middle draws at 0.51 and high draws 0.49.

Looking at the individual stall data, there isn’t a huge amount between a lot of the stalls again. The main thing that stands out is the extremely high stalls tend to perform relatively poorly but there is very limited data for these. Stalls 17, 18 and 19 do have a decent sample size and they are amongst the poorer stalls for place percentage and PRB but stall 17 has won this twice on ground that is good or softer and stall 22 has won before on faster ground.

Given the data I’d prefer to be drawn between 3 and 16 inclusive but very high draws look a slight disadvantage rather than a reason to rule out a runner.

Pace

York tends to be a pace track over sprint distances but is it fairer over this extended 10f?

This course and distance looks pretty fair from a pace perspective on easier ground. Not many winners manage to make all, with a relatively poor win percentage of 4.17% but the place percentage doesn’t perform too badly at 18.75%, even if it is statistically the least successful run style for place purposes too.

The best win percentage belongs to prominent, followed by held up whilst the place percentages suggest mid division is very slightly favoured over prominent. The place percentage backs up the win percentage data in front runners doing least best and hold ups doing next least best but there is very little in the figures suggesting you shouldn’t be put off any run style unless the pace map shows an extreme likely pace outcome.

John Smith’s Cup Pace Map

This is the pace map for the 2021 John Smith’s Cup, based on each runner’s last two runs.

Very interesting that there is a ton of likely early pace in this contest. A huge eight of these runners led early last time out and three of them have led early on at least their last two starts. There is so much pace that you’d probably think twice about even backing anything that races prominently as they could be too close to a pace collapse.

Judging by the likely pace in this race, preference would be for runners who should be held up in mid division or in the rear.

Draw and Pace Combination

One more data view before we look at the runners.

This heat map shows the likely best run styles for each draw in this race. Historically higher drawn front runners have performed better than their lower drawn counterparts whereas the best draw for prominent racers has been low.

We are probably more interested in the best draws for mid division and held up given the likely strong pace and the data from previous races suggests a middle draw is slightly preferred for both of those run styles. There is very little between low and high draws for the more patiently ridden runners.

The Runners

Here are the main contenders for this year’s John Smith’s Cup, in early odds order.

Astro King

Progressive this season in top handicaps and was runner up in the Royal Hunt Cup on his latest start. He’s gone up 4lbs for that run but gets to run off the same mark here so is 4lbs well in. Connections have often said he’ll be better going back up in trip (raced exclusively at a mile this season but ran over 10f last year) and several of his runs back that up but the ground has to be a slight question mark here. His poorest run to date came on soft ground over this trip and any rain that falls on Saturday is likely to decrease his chances of winning. He’d have been a solid contender on fast ground but he’s opposable on good to soft or worse.

Surrey Pride

Boasts rock solid claims after a course and distance win here in May. He won pretty comfortably that day, looking to have improved since a successful 3yo campaign, and a 6lb rise surely underestimates him given how that form has worked out. The 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th have all won since which is extremely hot form and I’m a big fan of course form when betting at York, especially when there is some cut in the ground.

One common misconception in racing is that horses that don’t want fast ground automatically want soft ground and vice versa. Surrey Pride is one of those horses that doesn’t want extremes of going. He finished 4th on his only run on good to firm, his form on soft or heavy ground reads 5557 and his form on good or good to soft reads 61111, with the only defeat coming on debut (in a maiden that worked out well). If the ground doesn’t soften beyond good to soft on Saturday (there is a bit of rain forecast) he’s the one to beat. The one question mark is being drawn in the highest stall. It’s probably a disadvantage, but not a massive one and not one that hasn’t been overcome before (Farraaj won from stall 22 in 2014).

Aaddeey

I gave this horse a good write up for the Old Newton Cup on Saturday only for the ground to soften and for him to be withdrawn. It’s unlikely the ground is going to be perfect here and the drop in trip has to be considered a pretty big negative. He did run well over 10f at Newbury on seasonal debut in what was a warm race but he’s 15lbs higher here courtesy of improving for running over 12f. A strong pace will help him but he’s probably going to get 14f this season and on ground that is softer than ideal he’s worth taking on.

Dawaam

Owen Burrows’ runner is four from five on the all weather but yet to reach the places in three efforts on turf. You couldn’t say he doesn’t go on turf as he was only beaten 5 lengths in the Wolferton at Royal Ascot last time and he’s technically 8lbs well in here. However he did fail to beat a rival home on his only run on good to soft ground and that came off a lower mark than this so he’s a bit of a punt in this and surprisingly short in the betting, the fact that he’s 8lbs well in probably largely determining that.

Ascension

Happiest when the mud is flying so his run on fast ground in the Royal Hunt Cup last time out is easily forgiven. He was a comfortable winner before that on good to soft ground at Newbury in a fair handicap but probably flattered by running on the favoured near side rail on that occasion and not necessarily the best runner in that race. This is his first run over further than a mile and he hasn’t looked to be crying out for this test to date but his sire has winners at all trips and the dam stayed 10f so there are possibilities.

Fishable

A Ripon specialist (form figures there of 1141) but does have York form too. He was runner up over course and distance last season on soft ground and then although only 8th in first time cheekpieces here behind Surrey Pride in May, he missed the break by about 5 lengths that day and was badly squeezed up when in the process of running a big race. He has gone up 3lbs since for winning again at Ripon.

He looks to have a major form chance but he did make all last time and trying those same tactics here would probably be a mistake. He has also been held up plenty of times though and it might just be a case of connections choosing to ride him more prominently when he goes to Ripon, tactics that are suited to that course. Stall 18 is probably slightly higher than ideal but not the end of the world.

Al Zaraqaan

Progressive on the all weather over the winter but hasn’t run to the same level on any going type since on turf. He did run better on turf at Group 2 level on fast ground than he did on soft ground in a listed race but he’s not going to get fast turf here and he’s yet to prove he’s capable of winning a big handicap off a mark of 107 on turf. He does have further progression left in him though.

Good Birthday

Won the Zetland Gold Cup at Redcar this season and it’s a race that has worked out very well. He was well placed that day though and probably not the best horse in the race and he didn’t back it up next time out at Newmarket when well beaten. The ground might have been more to blame that day than a 4lb rise and easier ground will undoubtedly suit more here. He’s been well beaten in two runs at York and isn’t always the most reliable so although he’s capable of running well if on a going day, others look better handicapped.

Nicholas T

Not many horses win the Northumberland Plate before coming here but he does have plenty of form over this trip and is on a roll having put together back to back wins. He’s taken his form to a new level this season over trips further than this and it’s likely he could struggle off a career high mark now.

Bright Start

Probably been better on all weather surfaces to date and his only win came on dirt in Meydan over the winter. He has run well on a variety of going types on turf and can’t be completely ruled out having finished a nose runner up to a progressive type last time out but his turf form does leave him needing to step up and he could be ridden too close to the pace here.

Johnny Drama

Took his form to a new level over the winter on all weather surfaces and if he translates that improvement back to turf he’s well handicapped considering his turf mark is 9lbs lower than his all weather mark. He has been runner up over course and distance off this sort of mark twice so he’s not completely ruled out even if he hasn’t improved. His turf form last season requires a step up though and he could be a bit too close to the early gallop for comfort here.

Lucander

An interesting one at the price. He won over course and distance last season on soft ground which gives him a 100% record at York from two runs. He was runner up in last season’s Cambridgeshire off a 1lb lower mark on good ground and returned in good form this season, finishing 2nd at Newmarket behind an enterprisingly ridden rival. The third in that race has won since. Only beat one home last time in the Royal Hunt Cup but a mile on fast ground wouldn’t have suited. He’s often held up in mid division which should be perfect from his middle draw and the easier ground and return to York should help him improve from a poor effort last time out.

Data Protection

Tends to run his best races at Newmarket or Epsom and was well below par when favourite on his only try at York. Likely to help set a strong pace and has work to do off a career high mark.

Cockalorum

In the form of his life at the moment although this is a big step up from the class 4 handicaps he’s been winning. He made all for both recent wins too and those tactics are unlikely to see him to best effect here.

Dark Pine

Proved his recent improvement wasn’t just down to all weather surfaces when winning at Chester before finding heavy ground over further at Royal Ascot too much. Not handicapped out of this off 4lb higher and could go well at a price but obviously needs to improve again in this company.

Hartswood

Has a bit of a reputation as a York specialist despite just the one win here, having also filled the places in several top handicaps here. Won last time out when getting the run of the race at Newcastle and still has a chance of landing a decent race at this course off his new mark. He’s only tried this distance once and didn’t seem to stay so would have made much more appeal in the mile handicap earlier in the card but it will be interesting to see how he takes to this trip here at York.

Victory Chime

Had limitations exposed last time out at listed level and has generally performed best at front runner friendly tracks. Much more competition for the lead here and probably not well enough handicapped.

Winter Reprise

Needs to step up massively on what he’s done this season and seems very reliant on leading early, which will almost certainly compromise his chance here.

Palavecino

Hasn’t quite matched his all weather form on turf despite not having a split mark and it’s a slight worry his best turf form seems to have come at Chester. Another that could be too close to the early gallop and doesn’t look well enough handicapped.

What’s The Story

Has a good record at York and runs in this for the fourth consecutive year. This trip seems to stretch him a little and his best chance of a win off this mark would be on fast ground over a mile here.

Sky Defender

Inconsistent and difficult to win with but has shown he can run well off this sort of mark and has strong course and distance form. Probably too reliant on getting an easy lead though which he won’t get here and needs to bounce back from a poor run.

Strait Of Hormuz

Still lightly raced and better than the bare result in both runs this season. He’s only 3lbs higher than when winning a decent handicap at Doncaster last season over this trip and didn’t seemingly stay further on his next two runs. He dropped back to this trip last time out at Epsom and although beaten 11.5 lengthsit was a day of exaggerated winning distances and Strait Of Hormuz met trouble in running and had to be snatched up. He does have form on softish ground but he’s probably better on good or better, which means the ground has probably gone slightly against him here. He’s worth watching out for on better ground though and should outrun his odds, especially if less rain falls on Saturday than is forecast.

The Verdict

A fair few of those near the head of the betting look worth taking on for reasons outlined above and although Strait Of Hormuz is very likely to outrun his odds, especially if the course doesn’t catch any more showers, he probably needs even faster ground to go close in a race of this nature.

I’m so much more confident betting on course form at York and Lucander, Fishable and Surrey Pride all have strong course and distance form to their names. The fact that Lucander is unbeaten in two runs here makes him really interesting and there are obvious reasons for him to bounce back here from a poor run but he would have appealed slightly more if he’d run just a bit better at Ascot last time. He’s still massively overpriced and worth covering though, especially with Laura Pearson riding and claiming 5lbs.

Fishable may not have won here but he’s unlucky to not have placed in both course and distance starts and will find conditions perfect here. If he’d got a clear run behind Surrey Pride last time he’d probably have finished 3rd or 4th and would be going into this a shorter price. He’s been in good form all season, is consistent and after just ten runs should still be improving a little. The only slight worry with him is being ridden too close to the pace but he’s been held up in all three visits to York (didn’t have much choice last time admittedly after missing the break).

Assuming Saturday's rain isn't enough to send the ground back to soft though SURREY PRIDE looks the most likely to go well. We’re yet to see how far he can go on good/good to soft ground and he’s proven over course and distance with his last race working out well. He’s been held back for this since and his run style is ideally suited to a course like this where he can make up ground on the bridle. The draw isn’t ideal but his run style should be.

Coral Challenge 2021 Preview: Prominent Racers Hold The Key

The Eclipse always gets the bulk of the attention on the Sandown card but it’s very rarely a good betting race and I find the so called ‘Coral Challenge’ which is a one mile class 2 handicap, often with a decent sized field, is the race to get stuck into. This year looks no different. The race is due off at 2.25pm with a field of fifteen declared.

Just like at Haydock, it looks as though the ground will be drying out as we get closer to the off time but there are some showers forecast on the day of the race. This is Britain, during the summer, so it’s always possible they’ll get plenty more than is forecast. As it stands we’ll probably be looking for runners that don’t enjoy extremes of going.

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Draw

Let’s take a look at potential draw biases for this race.

We have a fairly decent sample size here and the first thing that stands out is just 6 high drawn winners compared to 14 and 15 from low and middle respectively. The place percentages back up the win data with low and middle producing place strike rates of 23.72% and 25.15% respectively, which both compare favourably to the place percentage of 17.31% for high draws.

The PRB figures suggest that middle is the best place to be with a PRB of 0.53 compared to 0.5 for low and 0.47 for high.

With middle possibly preferred and high draw runners seemingly at a disadvantage, we need to check the individual stall data for sweet spots.

Some slightly strange data with stalls 14 and 15 producing strong PRB figures, surprising given the overall poor PRB for higher numbers. Stalls 7, 9, 10 and 11 all have poor records, which suggests that area of the draw could be at a disadvantage but the very best PRB figure belongs to stall 8 at a whopping 0.64.

With the slightly random nature of the PRB data I’m going to look into the place percentages. Stalls 9, 10, 11 and 13 all perform relatively poorly here whilst some of the best performers are stalls 6, 8, 7, 3 and 5. It looks the case that you can run into decent finishing positions from any draw but the most important finishing positions, the win and the places, are most likely to be taken by those drawn in a low to middle area. However given the slightly random nature of some of this data I wouldn’t write off anything drawn high.

Pace

Hopefully the pace data will be a bit more straight forward to interpret.

Yes it is! The win percentages and the place percentages both follow a similar pattern whereby leaders have the best record, prominent is next, mid division is third best and being held up is worst of all. A win percentage of 19.51% for front runners and a place percentage of 43.90% look extremely impressive compared to the other run styles and it seems pretty clear that any runner getting even a whiff of an easy lead will need strong consideration.

In terms of volume, the most common run styles that win or place are prominent and it definitely looks a case of the closer to the pace the better.

Early leaders are profitable to follow for win purposes (Win PL of 17.50) and even more profitable for each way bets (EW PL of 30.63).

Coral Challenge Pace Map

So are any of these runners likely to get an easy lead at a course and distance that seems to suit front runners?

Very possibly is the answer to that. Marie’s Diamond is shown as the sole pace in the pace map but Maydanny is unlikely to give her an easy time of things up front. An early crawl probably isn’t likely given those pace options but they are unlikely to go fast either.

Magical Morning tends to sit just off the pace and that will almost certainly happen here, leaving him well placed. Montatham is another that tends to track the pace so he can potentially be upgraded slightly whilst the pace map may be slightly misleading as far as Acquitted is concerned. He often tracks the leaders but was bumped early last time out, dropped in trip, and didn’t get the early position he likes. Expect him to be on the prominent side of mid division.

Other than those runners this race is full of horses that like being held up. They won’t all be able to be held up here or many of them will end up very wide but those that race in mid division or even prominently might not be seen to their best if they are usually waited with.

Given the course pace data and this pace map I’d be extremely keen to side with one of those mentioned above as likely to be fairly prominent. It’s also worth noting that the ground could be slightly dead on Saturday if they don’t get much rain and it can often be difficult to make up ground on a lifeless surface at the best of times so we could see even more of a pace bias than usual.

Draw and Pace Combination

The draw data was slightly confusing for this race but perhaps looking at it in combination with the pace data could be helpful.

We have established that early pace could be key here but early pace from a high draw is far less effective than from a low or middle draw. Maydanny and Marie’s Diamond are both drawn high, as is the prominent angle Magical Morning.

Meanwhile Montatham and Acquitted, who can both race prominently, are drawn much lower. Low and middle draw PRBs of 0.71 and 0.68 for early leaders are extremely strong, but it’s unlikely either Montatham or Acquitted will lead. Prominent runners from either draw are also seen to good effect though.

A low draw could be deemed an advantage here but low draws that are held up have a PRB of 0.44, the worst of all the draw and run style combinations. Those that race in mid division do best from a middle draw, no great surprise given if they are drawn low they could get trapped on the rail. Sandown isn’t a course where you have much time to recover if you meet trouble in running.

This data suggests low to middle and leading or prominent are the best combinations, although mid division from middle draws can be good too. With not much early pace on dead ground mid division could still end up being too far back though.

The Runners

This is the full field for the Coral Challenge, in early odds order.

Montatham

Last year’s winner is now rated 109, 9lbs higher than when winning this last year, so this would be some weight carrying performance. He’s certainly earned that mark though. The runner up from last year’s race rated 7lbs higher that season whilst the 4th and 5th came out and won shortly after. That win came on fast ground, which Montatham wouldn’t necessarily want, so he can be marked up further from that.

Despite winning this last year off 100, Montatham wasn’t done winning handicaps. He won the Clipper Logistics handicap at York’s Ebor meeting off a mark of 104, beating Sir Busker who is now rated 8lbs higher. The 3rd was Top Rank, now rated 10bs higher and the 5th and 6th both won handicaps shortly after. Montatham has a habit of winning strong handicaps off high marks so he can’t be ruled out off 5lbs higher here.

He should be well placed and the ground will be fine so there are two main question marks. He hasn’t been sighted since the opening weekend of the flat season. He was third in a listed race on that occasion but ran as though the run would do him good. Having now spent 98 days off the track it's possible he’ll need this run too.

The other question mark is the booking of Adam Farragher as jockey, claiming 5lbs. He’s had 388 rides in the UK and Ireland meaning he has plenty of experience but he brings just a 5.15% win strike rate into this. He hasn’t ridden a winner since January – that’s 69 rides without a victory. He’s ridden five times for William Haggas and has gone well on his last two but doesn’t have a winner for him.

Acquitted

He seemingly has an inconsistent profile but he has a major chance on the best of his runs. He was successful twice as a 2yo and started life in handicaps chasing home no other than Palace Pier, getting 9lbs and a 3.25 length beating. His form tailed off on his next two starts and he subsequently missed the second half of last season and was gelded.

He returned this season in the Spring Mile, the Lincoln consolation race, and that race worked out particularly well.

All of the runners who finished in the first ten places who have run since have either finished 1st or 2nd, marking that down has hot form. You could argue Acquitted hasn’t gone on from there but the ground was probably too soft when dropped in trip at Ascot next time out. Acquitted has won on heavy ground but Hugo Palmer thinks he wants good ground – and pretty much nothing else! His run at Doncaster seems to back that up. He does have a good record on the all weather so it was no surprise he ran well at Chelmsford last time out despite everything seeming to go against him. He was bumped at the start meaning he couldn’t get a good early position and then he met trouble in running before staying on very well when in the clear.

The step back up to a mile here should suit, as should a return to prominent racing tactics used on his last few runs at this distance. The negative is a 4lb rise for being beaten almost 2 lengths last time out. Yes he was unlucky but the handicapper has very much taken the view of what might have been rather than the bare form. However coming into this 5lbs higher than when beaten just a neck in that hot Doncaster race isn’t the end of the world.

Magical Morning

Still lightly raced and the Gosden team could hardly be in better form. With Frankie Dettori on board he’s sure to be popular, especially with a potential pace bias in his favour. He was a bit disappointing in the Hunt Cup, ‘only’ finishing 8th and he very much got the run of the race on his final start at Doncaster last season and still found one too good. He’s possibly only averagely handicapped, for all he’s capable of improving, and he probably wouldn’t want any more rain with fast underfoot conditions coinciding with his best form. Dead ground might not be ideal either but he can’t be completely written off for this team with this pace setup.

Pythagoras

The sole 3yo in the line up and it’s possible he could race prominently, although he was held up two starts ago. That run came in the Dante Stakes where he was around 6 lengths behind the subsequent Irish Derby winner – not bad form. He was then ridden prominently when running okay in the Golden Gates Stakes at Royal Ascot. That run came on ground he had won on before and possibly proved this horse is no better than his current rating of 99. Connections will be looking for him to improve for the drop in trip, which maybe he’ll do, but he certainly needs to find improvement.

Ransom

Beaten a similar distance in two handicaps to date but is yet to receive any respite from the handicapper. Being trained by Sir Michael Stoute and having a lightly raced profile hasn’t helped with that, nor has it helped with the prices he gets sent off at. The soft ground probably didn’t suit last time out , in which case his third was a decent effort, and that form is working out just about okay. He was one of the few to get into it from off the pace that day too so can be marked up slightly. He’s not going to find it much easier to close late here though which is the main problem and reason to oppose. He’ll be of interest in other races at other venues but he’ll need plenty of luck here.

Trais Fluors

A winner over course and distance two starts ago before not getting much of a run when running a creditable 10th in the Hunt Cup. The race he won here was well run though and his best form has come on very fast ground so given he’s likely to be held up from stall 12 on dead ground he’s opposable.

Beat Le Bon

Second home on the far side in the Hunt Cup and has been in good form in recent starts. He’s definitely capable of winning a decent race off this sort of mark this season but he’s another that is best on fast ground off a fast pace and he’s unlikely to get the race run to suit.

Plantadream

Improved for his seasonal reappearance last time out when 3rd at Epsom, staying on well when it was difficult to get into races. He’s one to look out for at Lingfield, despite being rated 6lbs higher on the all weather, and although he’s capable of winning a small race off his current turf mark he doesn’t look well enough handicapped for this, especially with the pace setup unlikely to play to his strengths.

Escobar

Generally an Ascot specialist these days who is at his best with plenty of dig in the ground. Didn’t get his underfoot conditions in the Hunt Cup and finished well beaten but had previously run very well in the Victoria Cup. He generally goes quite well at this venue too, he has been 2nd in two previous renewals of this and one of those efforts was off just a 1lb lower mark. He’s handicapped to potentially run well but he’s yet another that would prefer a good gallop.

Marie’s Diamond

Just twelve months ago he placed in the Queen Anne Stakes and now finds himself running in this handicap off a mark of 105. He’s shown versatility with regards to the ground but the main problem seems to be his consistency. He ran well enough in the Earl Of Sefton Stakes on seasonal debut but has been below that form on his last two runs. He’s well handicapped on plenty of his form and poorly handicapped on the most recent two efforts. Getting an early lead here might help but there seem to be no pattern to his form to be able to determine whether or not he’ll turn up for this.

Maydanny

Still had only the ten runs despite seemingly being around for ages. He won two races by wide margins last season but was also below par on several occasions and that sort of inconsistency has been a problem this season too, finishing runner up in the Suffolk Stakes on seasonal debut before barely beating a runner home in the Royal Hunt Cup. Should enjoy a tactical advantage here but his best form in recent times has been on more undulating tracks, on faster ground and over further.

Accidental Agent

In okay form in two runs this season, running well in a Newbury handicap off a 1lb higher mark before a creditable 7th in the Queen Anne Stakes. Doesn’t seem to have much in hand on his current rating but isn’t badly handicapped either, the main issues here seem to be the need for a decent pace and probably being better on straight tracks. He appeals for something like the Balmoral Handicap later this year.

Orbaan

Arguably a bit disappointing for current connections, beaten in seven handicaps off marks north of 100. He returned this season in good form, finishing 5th in the Lincoln, but most of the winners who have come from that race were the runners who were well beaten. He had wind surgery after than and showed up well last week at Newcastle, held up in a slowly run race, traveling best and not beaten far. He’s another who isn’t badly handicapped but is likely to be poorly positioned here when the race gets going. I’d love to see him tried over 7f in a big field.

Bedouin’s Story

Well beaten in the Buckingham Palace Stakes when fairly well fancied and although this step back up in trip will probably suit he needs to come forward massively for that race, his first since February. He seems suited to speed favouring courses and a slowly run race around here is unlikely to play to his strengths.

Fantasy Believer

Can ruin his chances with slow starts and seems to be in the grip of the handicapper now, on turf at least where he is yet to win a race in twelve attempts. A mile and a good gallop are his conditions and he’ll probably only get one of those here.

The Verdict

Pythagoras isn’t completely ruled out if he gets a good early position but he doesn’t look brilliantly handicapped and is pretty exposed now for a 3yo. Maydanny and Marie’s Diamond could be the main beneficiaries of a pace bias assuming they don’t take each other on (Maydanny might just take a lead from Marie’s Diamond) but neither are consistent enough and both are drawn wide.

Magical Memory will definitely be well placed and represents in form connections and a top jockey. If the ground was likely to be fast he’d be worthy of some support but ground conditions may be slightly against him, even if it continues to dry out it will still be no faster than good and on the dead side.

That leaves Montatham and Acquitted as two who should be close enough to the pace who also have leading form claims. The absence since March is a slight concern for last year’s winner plus I’d have reservations about backing a jockey with a less than 6% strike rate riding a favourite, even if Montatham is a relatively straight forward ride. His handicap form from last season is top notch though.

ACQUITTED is the one I am most interested in here. I’ve been waiting to back this horse at a mile on good ground since his Doncaster run in March and even though his 4lb rise for his latest effort is a little harsh, he still looks well handicapped in the grand scheme of things. He seemed to take well enough to first time tongue tie and blinkers last time out and assuming James Doyle makes the most out of stall 2 by riding him prominently like he did in the Spring Mile (first ride on the horse since then) he should be able to go very close.

Several of those likely to be held up here will be of interest in the near future, particularly Ransom and Beat Le Bon, but it would be a surprise if the patiently ridden runners get into this.

Old Newton Cup 2021 Preview: Make It Aaddeey To Remember

Saturday is one of my favourite days on the racing calendar with the cards at Sandown and Haydock generally looking excellent betting material. This preview will be looking at the Old Newton Cup, one of the best middle distance handicaps of the season. This race will be run at 3.15pm at Haydock over twelve furlongs and this is a race for 4yo+.

The ground looks like it will be drying at Haydock, possibly leaving us on the fast side of good by the off time, although there are some showers forecast during the day. At the time of writing they are expected to remain light.

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Draw

A maximum field of seventeen are set to go to post here, with two reserves on standby if there are any early non runners. Is there a draw bias over this trip in big fields at Haydock?

Big fields aren’t the norm over this distance at Haydock so even if we include races with as few as 13 runners we still have a fairly limited sample size. We therefore shouldn’t get too carried away with the data unless seeing some very concrete results.

The overall draw data seems even, looking at the win data, but in small samples this can be misleading. The place percentage data has low and then high favoured over middle but with a smaller sample size we probably want to be concentrating on PRB as each runner is contributing to the data set, not just three or four runners.

The PRB figures for low, middle and high are 0.55, 0.49 and 0.46 which points towards the lower the better, with higher draws definitely having more work to do to get involved.

With a potentially strong draw advantage here, but also a small sample size, we’ll want to check how the individual stall data plays out. Firstly we want to see where a good draw starts to become a bad draw and secondly we need to check how legitimate the data looks in this smaller sample size.

Before we go any further, let’s establish how trustworthy this data is. The top five PRB figures for individual stalls are all 8 or lower, five of the worst six PRB figures belong to stalls 9 or above. This doesn’t look particularly random. If we sort all of this data by PRB3 the best performing nine stalls are the nine lowest drawn, the worst performing eight draws are all those in double figures. This definitely doesn’t look random.

It's not as though higher draws can’t win though. Stalls 15 and 16 have the second and third highest win percentages. Double figured stalls have won seven of the nineteen races examined. Also looking at the place percentages, stalls 16 and 14 have the best scores. A higher draw looks more like a penalty of a few pounds rather than a reason to completely oppose a horse.

Pace

Looking at a similar data sample, hopefully we can identify any possible pace bias for this race.

The win percentage data implies not much difference between front running, racing prominently or racing in mid division, with only being held up a disadvantage. There is some merit to the win data, it’s easier to run into the places against a pace bias than it is to win against a pace bias. However in this sample size the place percentage data is going to prove more reliable.

The place percentages tell us that leading can be most advantageous. Front runners have a place percentage of 28.57%, racing prominently is next best with a place percentage of 23.17% and although it drops again to mid division (19.48%) the runners that are held up perform almost as well as those who race prominently 22.43%. That suggests there isn’t a strong pace bias – yes any horse getting an easy lead is likely to outperform their odds but that goes for any race at any course.

In this particular race the pace setup of the race seems much more likely to cause a pace bias (either way) than the course does.

Old Newton Cup Pace Map

So here is the pace map for this race, compiled nicely for us by Geegeez Gold.

A potentially strong pace here which could compromise the chances of those ridden aggressively and improve the claims of the more patiently ridden runners.

The main pace angles are potentially Grand Bazaar, Lost Eden and Zabeel Champion who have led early on two of their last three runs. Brilliant Light can sit just off the pace but has also led in one of his most recent runs.

The likes of My Frankel and The Trader tend to race prominently and should keep the front runners honest throughout.

Draw and Pace Combination

This part of the draw tab is always worth checking in bigger fields.

Low draws seem to perform well regardless of their run style. There could be a concern about those in mid division from low draws but given those held up perform well from low draws, this could just be a quirk of slightly limited data.

For the horses drawn in the middle stalls it seems a front running ride can be a big advantage. The majority of the early pace in this race is drawn towards the middle so if they don’t go off to fast they are well drawn for that run style.

As for the higher drawn runners, those that race nearer the pace perform much better than those that race nearer the rear. Presumably being held up from a high draw results in them being dropped out and forfeiting too much ground early in the race to recover later in the race.

The Runners

These are the runners for the 2021 Old Newton Cup, in early odds order.

Longsider

A handicap debutant for Sir Mark Prescott. He was pencilled in to have his first run since February in last week’s Northumberland Plate over half a mile further but wasn’t deemed ready for that, connections deciding to get an extra week of work into him before going for this race. A potential early warning sign that he won’t be at his fittest.

His form does stand up though. He beat a nothing field over just an extended mile in January 2020 in easy fashion and improved for the step up to this trip last time out at Lingfield in a novice stakes, after just over a year off on stable debut, having previously raced for David Lanigan. He beat the now 89 rated Raymond by 2.5 lengths that day, giving him 5lbs. You could argue that he ran near a mark of 100+ that day the way he beat Raymond but if you watch the race back, Raymond was better than the bare result and has probably improved since for tackling longer distances. Either way a mark of 92 almost certainly underestimates Longsider.

There are negatives too though. He’s going to be breaking from the widest stall, he’s yet to run on turf (that shouldn’t be a problem though, his sire has a better handicap place strike rate on faster turf than all weather surfaces) and there is that doubt about how fit he is for this as he’s clearly been very difficult to train.

Grand Bazaar

A non runner at Royal Ascot due to soft ground and conditions will be more suitable here. He was steadily progressive last season on better ground and can certainly be forgiven a flop on his last start of 2020 which came over 14f on soft ground. He returned in good form at Newmarket when third, but only beaten a short head and a neck. The two that finished ahead of him both went on to place at Royal Ascot in competitive handicaps and it’s surprising that the handicapper left his mark unchanged after that effort.

He’s drawn okay in stall 8 but the question mark has to be field size. His wins last season were in field sizes of 6, 5 and 4 and his good run this season was in a 5 runner field. He hasn’t had many chances in bigger fields but was beaten in field sizes of 9, 10 and 11 last year and given his running style it stands to reason that he could be better in smaller fields. There is nothing wrong with his handicap mark or his form but whether he can run to that level here is open to question.

Aaddeey

A consistent runner who has had just the six starts. His form on good ground is 2121 whereas his worst two performances have come on soft and heavy. He was an okay 5th at Royal Ascot last time out and if not for the ground being an excuse you could easily argue that the handicapper has him pegged after a 13lb rise for a wide margin win at Newmarket on his previous start. On closer inspection though he could, and should, still be well handicapped.

On seasonal debut at Newbury, he was slowly away and strong at the finish over what now looks an inadequate 10f. He finished runner up in what has turned out to be a very strong handicap. The winner, who was less than a length ahead, is now running off a 13lb higher mark. Next time out Aaddeey won a small field Newmarket handicap by an easy 4.5 lengths so a 13lb rise seems fair, especially when you consider that the runner up won comfortably on his next start. The 3rd home, beaten 9.5 lengths, has finished runner up on both starts since so if anything a 13lb rise for that run looks quite lenient.

Given the ground went against him at Ascot, 5th in a strong race was a decent effort. He looks ready for even further already so a strong pace would help him (he’ll surely be a contender for the Ebor next month) and the only real negative is the draw. Stall 13 isn’t the end of the world but it isn’t ideal either, especially for one that is normally patiently ridden.

Valyrian Steel

A winner on his last two all weather runs at this distance, making his all weather form figures 111. In comparison his turf form figures now read 145. His turf win came against a now 66 rated maiden and he’s been well enough beaten in both turf handicap runs, weak at the finish on both occasions. His turf mark has gone up for winning on the all weather and even his all weather form doesn’t particularly stand up to much scrutiny, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th from his most recent (narrow) win have all been beaten since. Opposable.

Zabeel Champion

Trained by Mark Johnston, who has won three of the last eight renewals of this. Resumed progress this season and has now won five of his last nine starts. He was third last time out at Ascot, ahead of Aaddeey, but with conditions more in his favour. He’s consistent so being nudged up 1lb for his recent place isn’t a concern, it’s just a question of how much improvement does he have left in him after twelve starts? He doesn’t have to lead but will surely be very close to the early gallop and the inclusion of several other front runners in this field could compromise his chance in this, although there is no reason why he can’t run well again.

Midnights Legacy

Took advantage of a race rather falling apart on his most recent run, although he was handicapped to win a race of that nature. He’s four from eight on turf on the flat and has won two out of three here at Haydock, seeming not to stay on his only defeat here when tackling 14f. He’s the sort to continue running well but the winning distance of his last race, which hasn’t worked out, means he’s gone up 8lbs and others now look better handicapped in this.

My Frankel

Unbeaten in two all weather starts but only one from four on turf. He does have some good turf form to his name though. He beat the subsequently 87 rated Naswaary by 1.5 lengths in a Leicester maiden off a long absence and even ran okay in Palace Pier’s Sandown maiden over a trip that would have been far too short.

The key to My Frankel seems to be a fast surface and he hasn’t had that on his last two turf runs which have resulted in distances beaten of 36 lengths and 28 lengths. The ground is unlikely to be rattling quick here so you’d have to have some reservations but he’s capable of running well if transferring his all weather or fast turf form to this contest, for all stall 15 is a concern.

Dark Jedi

Improved by a stone last season after transferring from Charles Hills to Tim Easterby. His wins came at 9f and 10f but he was runner up to Euchen Glen in the Old Borough Cup here on soft ground so there are no question marks at all over stamina. That winner has since rated a stone higher whereas Dark Jedi is only rated 2lbs here so it’s difficult to make a case for him being badly handicapped, especially as he’s completely unexposed at 12f+.

He didn’t make his seasonal debut until a week ago and would need to improve on that run but it’s entirely possible that will have brought him on, with this potentially the plan all season. Even if he has come on for that he appeals more as a place bet than a win bet.

Pablo Escobarr

Highly tried throughout his career and successful at both listed and Group 3 level. He’s only rated 3lbs lower than his highest official rating which probably doesn’t leave him well handicapped, although he did place in a Meydan handicap off a 1lb higher mark on good ground over this distance, but was sent off favourite for that race so still ran slightly below expectations. Hasn’t been at his best on his two runs this season, finding only a little improvement in a first time visor last time out. That headgear is retained and a more truly run race here might suit him better but this requires a career best when he’s not running within a good few pounds of his best form this season.

Win O Clock

Disappointing at Ascot last time out given the ground had seemingly come in his favour, dropping away in the straight. He’s only been dropped 1lb for that run and whilst he is fairly handicapped when there is plenty of juice in the ground, he is almost certainly badly handicapped on fast ground. He’ll probably be well placed in this from stall 4 but that’s the biggest positive and unless they receive lots of rain on Saturday he’s very opposable.

Soto Sizzler

Runner up to Midnights Legacy last time out at Epsom, a course where he tends to run his best races. This looks a much stronger race and although the return to slightly better ground should suit, he’d only appeal against this field if the race was being run at Epsom. On this more traditional course he looks to have place prospects at best.

Brilliant Light

Still relatively lightly raced and has the run style to overcome stall 14. He’s run at trips between 10f and 14f this year, probably best suited by this distance on the balance of his form. He’s dropped 5lbs from his last two runs which still leaves him 6lbs above the rating of 93, off which he was 3rd in Meydan in February. That run was the last time he raced without headgear, which is left off here, and Marco Ghiani’s soon to be dispensed with 3lbs claim is very useful. The odds of around 18/1 probably underestimate his chances but his most recent runs have been disappointing.

Pirate King

Big improver on the all weather over the winter, winning four of his seven races. Hasn’t run since January but was due to run at Royal Ascot until the ground turned soft so shouldn’t be short of work. On his latest run he beat Midnights Legacy who reopposes here on 7lb worse terms so he’s well handicapped and overpriced on that form.

He has only raced on artificial surfaces in ten runs for Charlie Fellowes so it’s difficult to figure out if his improvement has been due to joining that stable or switching to the all weather. He didn’t look well handicapped on turf for Harry Dunlop off much lower marks but didn’t immediately improve when switched to the all weather for Fellowes. In fact his Kempton form doesn’t give him much hope here, all his improvement came at Lingfield. That has to be a concern here off a career high mark.

Scarlet Dragon

Made his move and hit the front far too early when looking for a repeat win of the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes at Royal Ascot, ending up well beaten in the end. He’s now 3lbs higher than his 2020 Ascot success but he took advantage of some below par performances that day and given his best performances have generally come with plenty of cut in the ground under Hollie Doyle he has work to do here.

Alounak

Formerly smart but has not matched any of his old form since joining Andrew Balding at the start of last season. In fact he’s struggled to beat any runners home in the majority of his races but he has run well on soft ground at the last two Royal meetings at Ascot. He was runner up in the Hardwicke last season and wasn’t beaten too far in the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes this year. This isn’t soft ground or Ascot though and he’s only dropped 2lbs which gives him ground to make up on the likes of Zabeel Champion and Aaddeey.

The Trader

Not the most consistent but capable on his day. He was well beaten last time out behind Midnights Legacy at Epsom and seemed in the grip of the handicapper on his previous run. Decent ground here will suit but even if he bounces back to his absolute best this is much deeper than anything he’s been competitive in before.

Lost Eden

He's been potentially overlooked slightly in the market here given he was disputing favouritism in the early betting for the handicap won by Midnights Legacy at Epsom. He was withdrawn from that race because the ground turned soft and that was also the reason he became a non runner at Ascot. Better ground here should therefore suit but he doesn’t look particularly well handicapped on what he's shown to date. He won a weak all weather novice in April by 9 lengths which gave the handicapper the unenviable task of giving him a rating. The runner up in that race was a now 66 rated maiden and Lost Eden, although remaining with scope to improve, has done little to suggest he can win this off 96.

The Verdict

There aren’t many at big prices here that make much appeal. Lost Eden is probably overpriced based on the ‘could be anything’ factor but his form doesn’t really back up his mark. Brilliant Light could run well at a price but he’s very risky based on his Royal Ascot reappearance. Dark Jedi could improve on his seasonal reappearance but the bookies have taken no chances with his price given he’s much more likely to run into a place than win.

Longsider is the one with loads of potential. Just a week ago though he was deemed to not be ready enough for the Northumberland Plate and he’s clearly been difficult to train so he is opposable at the price, especially from his car park draw.

Grand Bazaar has good enough form to win this but still has to prove himself in bigger fields and he shouldn’t get an easy lead here.

The best bet in this contest comes down to how much significance you put into the draw data. Zabeel Champion is a pretty safe bet from stall 7. If they don’t go a crazy pace he should be well enough placed, the pace data suggests the lead is the best place here and prominent racers have often done well in this particular race. He ran a rock solid race at Ascot, proving he is as good as ever if not miles ahead of his mark anymore. He's very closely matched with Grand Bazaar on their Newmarket form but Grand Bazaar may be too reliant on small fields.

At a similar sort of price to Zabeel Champion, AADDEEY seems the one capable of rating much higher. He’s still very lightly raced and has only been given one chance at this distance on decent ground and he beat a subsequent winner with limitless ease on that occasion. He’s much higher in the weights here but ran well on the wrong ground last time in a good race. It seems the only things that can probably keep him out of the frame here are a draw bias and a pace bias. He can race in mid division and there should be a good early gallop so the pace bias isn’t too much of a concern, it’s just the draw. With a lower draw he’d rate a confident bet but stall 13 isn’t so terrible that it can rule him out here. Mark Crehan even takes off a useful 3lbs, he’s two from four for the stable when riding single figure priced runners.

Northumberland Vase Preview: Everybody Loves Raymond

It’s the big handicaps at Newcastle that appeal on Saturday and as is often the case, it’s the consolation race rather than Northumberland Plate that is of most interest. These consolation races usually contain far more unexposed, progressive types and for me at least, they are much better betting races.

The Northumberland Vase is due off at 2.55pm and just like the Plate, will be run over an extended two miles. It’s worth noting that whilst the course has been riding fairly slow, forecast rain on Friday should quicken the surface up a bit.

All of the data used below is available through a Geegeez Gold subscription. Click here to get your first 30 days of Geegeez Gold for just £1.

Draw

A big field and a round course, any hint of a draw bias here?

Newcastle have only been racing on their all weather surface for five years which leaves us with just a limited data set for big field two mile races. What data we do have suggests that there isn’t much difference between middle and high draws but low draws seem to be disadvantaged.

This goes against convention around a bend so let’s see exactly what the data implies. With a relatively limited data sample it doesn’t seem worth investing too much into the win percentage data, but a quick examination shows just a 3.51% win ratio for low draws, with 5.36% of middle drawn runners winning and a relatively massive 10.53% of high drawn horses emerge victorious.

The place percentage data should be much reliable than the win percentage data and this again points to higher draws being favoured with place percentages of 14.04%, 23.21% and 27.19% for low, middle and high draws respectively.

PRB is a much better metric to use in small samples, again the data points to higher draws. Low draws produce a PRB of just 0.44 compared to 0.52 and 0.53 for middle and high respectively.

With some big differences between low and middle let’s see where the sweet spots in the draw are likely to be.

The first thing that stands out here is the top four individual stalls as far as PRB are concerned are 17, 18, 20 and 16 (in that order). It is worth noting though that these stalls have very few runners so the data could be slightly misleading. Having said that the fact that all four of those stalls do so well seems too conclusive to be a coincidence.

At the other end of the scale, the worst two draws belong to stalls 1 and 2. They have individual stall PRBs of 0.39 and 0.33 respectively which is pretty awful. Stall 5 also performs poorly but stalls 4, 6 and 8 have done well in the past so whilst a very low draw might be highly disadvantageous, the low to middle draws shouldn’t be completely discounted even if it's an advantage to have a higher draw.

Looking at the individual stall data group, which is presenting PRB3 data, it does seem that the higher the draw the better with the line steadily climbing as you move into double figure stalls.

Win percentages can be misleading in smaller samples but it is worth noting that the top seven win percentages all belong to stalls 9 or higher.

Now I’ve watched several of these races back to try and determine a reason for this bias. My theory is that the horses that have been going round off the rail tend to deliver their challenges down the middle of the straight whereas those drawn on the rail tend to challenge closer to the far side rail (not necessarily on the rail). In straight course races they tend to come up the middle to near side and there is every chance a higher draw over this distance spits the higher draw runners out onto the fastest part of the straight.

Pace

Let’s now examine potential pace biases in this race.

Again not a massive sample, so the place percentage data will be much more interesting than the win percentage data. Looking at the win data though it’s an extremely close contest with just 1.52% separating the best and worst records, which belong to front runners and prominent racers respectively.

The place percentage data is also very well matched with most success gained from the front (26.92%) followed by 24.69% for prominent, 21.25% for mid division and 19.33% for hold up performers. That data does suggest you are slightly better off being closer to the pace than further but there really isn’t a huge amount in it and it looks a pretty fair course and distance.

Northumberland Vase Pace Map

Given that this venue looks pretty fair pace wise, I’d be far more concerned with the individual set up of the race then anything else, which is where the pace map comes in.

This race should be run at a good gallop with two last time out early leaders (Rochester House and A Star From Above) and the likes of Margaret Dumont, Bellatrixsa, Mr Chua, Raymond, Al Kout and Red Force One all also having led on at least one recent start.

By contrast, the likes of Zeeband, Indigo Times, Dreamweaver, Cleonte and Monsieur Lambrays are all consistently dropped out in the rear of the field and that quintet all look likely to be suited by the likely good gallop here. Being extremely patiently ridden didn’t look absolutely ideal according to the place percentage data on the Pace Analyser but granted a strong gallop here it might end up being the place to be, or at least mid division could be.

Draw and Pace Combination

Before we get into the runners and riders here I also want to look at one of my favourite parts of Geegeez Gold, the Draw and Pace Combination Heat Map which is particularly useful for big field races that have either a draw or pace bias (preferably both!).

Given the fairly small sample size we are dealing with here these figures can be taken with a slight pinch of salt but by looking at PRB data from previous big fields we do end up with a fair amount of runners producing data.

The heat map shows that a low draw is easier to overcome with a prominent position but leading from a low draw tends to result in a poor run.

If drawn in the middle, prominent or mid division tends to be best whilst higher draws are also seen to good effect when held up with a high draw seemingly the best starting position for front runners.

Given a likely good gallop here, the middle to high drawn hold up performers seem likely to receive some form of advantage.

The Runners

A rundown of the leading contenders for this, in early odds order.

East Asia

On a roll with three wins in a row on turf since joining Ian Williams and has appreciated the step up to two miles on his last two starts, winning both races fairly comfortably. What is interesting here is the fact that he gets to run off his all weather mark which is 2lbs lower than his last winning mark on turf and 7lbs lower than his new turf mark.

The question has to be is he as good on artificial surfaces? That’s a difficult one to answer considering all his previous runs away from turf came on dirt. His best performances on dirt seemed to coincide with the longer trips he tackled, finishing 2nd and 3rd over 13f and 2nd over 2m. Those efforts were off lower marks in the UAE, on a different surface, so there is plenty of guesswork involved.

After this race his all weather mark is either going to look extremely generous or we’ll know he’s much better on turf. Connections are likely to have a good idea if he’s going to be just as good on tapeta as turf so expect a further plunge in the market ahead of a possible success but the early odds are short enough in such an open race for one that has some question marks.

Indigo Times

No question marks about Indigo Times’ love affair with an all weather surface, he has won six times on artificial surfaces but he has never raced here and was beaten off 26lb lower marks on his only two tapeta starts (at Wolverhampton). He did where a hood for those starts and it’s possible it held him back or it may have been the surface. Either way his all weather form since coming away from tapeta and having the hood removed reads 1121111. He has been a bit of a Chelmsford specialist but did win comfortably at Kempton last time out.

The fact he ran well enough on turf in a hood between two slightly below par performances on tapeta in the same headgear is a concern, and he’s probably drawn slightly lower than ideal in stall 5. His hold up run style should be suited to this race though.

Zeeband

Lightly raced and representing Roger Varian so commands plenty of respect. He was progressive at 14f last season on turf and his beating of Ispahan at Thirsk (now 8lbs higher) reads fairly well as Zeeband is also 8lbs higher now and he still ran green that day. There was no disgrace in finding the progressive Prince Alex too good on his final start last year.

He reappeared with a solid 3rd and that form has worked out okay. He hasn’t particularly been crying out for further than the 14f he has raced over so far though and he’s also only run exclusively on turf to date. Add to that he’s drawn in stall 2 and connections have reached for a first time visor and the question marks begin to appear and he’s opposable at the price for all he may win, comments which apply to the two in front of him in the market too.

A Star Above

Moved through the ranks nicely last year for William Haggas, running a particularly respectable 4th in the Melrose Handicap at York, staying on well. He was successful when trying that trip this season, for the first time since the Melrose, in what has turned out to be a pretty solid handicap (plenty of placed form coming out of it).

He was dropped back to 12f on his next start though, possibly a sign connections don’t see him as a stayer, and his prominent racing style could leave him vulnerable here with a strong gallop likely.

Raymond

An seemingly exposed, dual purpose 6yo but on closer inspection he’s had just the six flat starts, producing form figures of 214121. His worst flat performance came at Southwell, so easy enough to write that one off, and he has won here at Newcastle, albeit over 10f in novice company. He has won over an extended 13f at Chelmsford and over 2m at York so has fewer question marks than many of those above him in the betting.

He’s pretty flexible as far as tactics are concerned and was held up in mid division on his most recent start which would seem the best thing to do here.

The form of his latest win has worked out well with the 3rd and 4th both winning since so a 4lb rise looks lenient – the handicapper agrees as he’s since put him up another pound but that new mark hasn’t kicked in here.

Stall 13 looks good and could encourage his pilot to drop him in which will probably be advantageous and he looks to have a solid chance at a fair price.

Byron Hill

Lightly raced and shed his maiden tag last time out over 14f at Yarmouth. He won comfortably last time out and is 2lbs well in here under his penalty but that form has taken a few knocks since, not necessarily a massive worry as those behind him weren’t particularly competitive.

He ran over course and distance last season, finishing 4th, in a race won by Bellatrixsa who reopposes here. He’s well enough drawn in 12 and his run style should suit the pace of this race. He looks the sort to run with credit but there have to be some doubts about how well handicapped he is, for all he is relatively progressive.

Margaret Dumont

Hugo Palmer’s 4yo has looked a thorough stayer since her very first starts (when racing for Mark Johnston). Since joining Palmer she’s raced almost exclusively on the all weather with her only turf run seeing her well beaten over this trip. Fast ground was blamed.

Her all weather form does look the most relevant with a view to this race and she’s been pretty consistent with form figures of 3212. The win came at Chelmsford, no real surprise given she looks a real grinder and she bounced back from her poor run on turf with a solid 2nd to a big improver last time out.

She looks pretty one paced and could get caught out against some speedier types here, even in a race that could bring out her stamina. She won’t get an easy lead either and she’s drawn low in stall 3. Probably one to note when tackling this trip at Chelmsford.

Blow Your Horn

A Golden Horn gelding that has improved as he’s gone up in trip since the winter. The majority of his starts have come on the all weather (has won here) but he seems equally good on turf, softer ground blamed for his latest lacklustre effort. Before that he won on his first try at 14f (at Chelmsford), his second win on the bounce.

He’s now gone up 10lbs for his two wins so needs to not only prove himself at this trip, but also off this mark. Being held up from stall 11 could bring about the best in him though.

Bellatrixsa

All five runs since winning over course and distance have been over hurdles and a hurdle mark of 122 means she could be well handicapped here off 77. Venetia Williams has already plundered the Chester Vase this season and given Bellatrixsa had several future winners in behind her on her last flat run, and has improved since over hurdles, she seems slightly overlooked by the bookies. There is plenty to like about her form and she holds Byron Hill on her last win but she’s likely to be close to the pace from stall 4 which could be her undoing.

Cosmelli

Won this in 2018 off a 4lb higher mark and went close here off a 2lb higher mark in December. He’s run a total of thirteen times over course and distance alone, meaning he has more experience here than many of these have had in their entire careers. His record is two wins and five places from those thirteen runs and he could run well here although he’s not always the most consistent and is definitely vulnerable to an improver.

Brasca

Finished last when only 10/1 for the Chester Vase and has only beaten one rival home in two starts at two miles plus. He does have a solid profile on the all weather (form figures of 1221) and does still look well handicapped at 14f on artificial surfaces but based on his turf form he looks an unlikely winner at this trip.

Vibrance

All four of his wins have come over Kempton’s two miles and ten of his eleven placed efforts have come at that venue too. His one placed run away from Kempton was here at Newcastle over an inadequate trip but that was off a 21lb lower mark.

His form seems to have plateaued at his favourite venue now too so he’s opposable here against more progressive types.

Cleonte

This 8yo has been a credit to connections and although he’s unlikely to ever run to his peak rating of 108 again, he won’t need to in order to get his head in front as he’s rated just 89 here. He was a comfortable winner off a 2lb lower mark at Kempton in March and ran well enough twice on turf after that before finding very soft ground against him at Ascot last time out. That run is forgivable but it came just a week ago and that effort may have left its mark on him.

He only made his all weather debut in November as a 7yo and he steadily ran himself into form over the winter. He ran a good 2nd here in February over course and distance behind a progressive Sir Mark Prescott horse running up a sequence, that runner won on his next two starts. He’s well suited by a good stamina test so a strong pace here would suit and he’s likely to be dropped out from stall 14 which is no problem. He’s one that should be able to outrun his odds if that latest effort hasn’t left its mark but he’ll probably find a few too good regardless.

Red Force One

Beat Raymond in a muddling small field handicap two starts ago, winning on the bridle, but didn’t back that up last time out on softer ground at Epsom. Going back up in trip should suit but probably not this far, he was well beaten at Ascot over two miles when trying this distance last season. He might not be well enough handicapped anyway and could be one of those involved in an early speed duel.

Autumn War

Something to prove after being beaten 22 lengths at Epsom last time out but his better turf form had come on better ground and he seems better over further than a mile and a half these days. Autumn War hadn’t run for a year before making his stable debut in October last year on soft ground, a run that did nothing but blow the cobwebs away. Next time out, up in trip with a visor fitted, he ran out a comfortable winner at Wolverhampton and he followed that up with another win, beating much of the same field again.

That last win worked out very well with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th all winning shortly after, meaning Autumn War has to be considered at least fairly handicapped here off just a 4lb higher mark. He hasn’t progressed since then but all his subsequent starts have come over shorter than his last win and he was found to be lame and to have bled on his last two starts on the all weather respectively. Hasn’t looked to be crying out for this trip but did seem to find 12f too short on his penultimate start so there is some hope of staying this far.

Dreamweaver

Yet to win in seven starts off marks in the 80s and certainly needs to improve for the step up in trip here, which is a substantial one. He doesn’t look well handicapped or a certain stayer so not difficult to put a line through him.

Rochester House

Ran well over this trip on seasonal debut but hasn’t performed to the same level in two starts over further since (does stay further than two miles). He’s rated 4lbs lower on the all weather and although he’s never shone at Kempton (beaten exactly 46 lengths on both starts) he was a winner off a 1lb lower mark over this trip at Lingfield and was beaten only a length off this mark on his only start over course and distance so does have some fair all weather form. He’s likely to get taken on for the lead and is drawn in stall 1 which is enough to look elsewhere.

Monsieur Lambrays

Has improved with racing and finished last season on a career high mark of 92 having picked up two wins in 2020, including one over this trip at York. He’s barely beaten a rival in three runs since that win but got a lot closer on his only run this year, finishing last of four but beaten less than 4 lengths. That form has worked out okay and he’s entitled to improve on that run so he’s probably overpriced, especially as he’s unbeaten in two tapeta runs (both at Wolverhampton at a much lower level admittedly).

Al Kout

Habitual front runner who has been in fairly decent form this season but was well beaten last time out on soft ground (did have previous form on that going). He doesn’t find winning easy with only two career successes and the fact he’s finished second nine times suggests he’s a bit of a thinker. He has been in the frame in eleven out of seventeen all weather starts though and his course and distance runs have produced form figures of 232 off similar sorts of marks. He’s best when dominating small fields though and could get swamped here.

Mr Chua

Progressive last season until flopping in the Cesarewitch and ran no sort of race last time out on his first start since wind surgery. Potential to improve for that and resume progression but he’s going to get taken on for the lead and hasn’t proved he’s as good on the all weather as he is on turf, even if he is back to form.

The Verdict

Fair to say this is wide open, I couldn’t confidently rule out more than a few of these.

I am fairly keen to back Autumn War back on the all weather and I’m happy to forgive his latest run on softer turf but I’m fairly certain 14f is his trip and I’m willing to leave him alone, even at a big price here.

Blow Your Horn seems to have better claims of staying this far, the offspring of Golden Horn have a massive PRB of 0.74 at this trip, admittedly from a sample of just eleven runners. He’ll need to improve for the extra trip but Jamie Spencer could be seen to best effect here holding him up off a strong gallop.

A more reliable option in a difficult race could be RAYMOND though. He’s one of the only market principles with proven stamina and proven all weather form and he won a good handicap last time out, good enough that the handicapper has regretted only raising him 4lbs for the win. He doesn’t have much big field form on the flat but he did win two 14 runner contests over obstacles. There don’t seem any real negatives other than the slight lack of ‘sexy’ profile some of these have and he’s worth an each way wager at around 12/1.

Bellatrixsa is also interesting but the draw and competition for the early lead is off putting.

Wokingham Handicap 2021 Preview: Value Seekers Could Be Feeling Fresh

It’s been a great Royal Ascot so far and Saturday’s toughest race has to be the Wokingham Handicap, which will be run at 5pm.

There will be a maximum field of 28 going to post and it looks set to be run on very testing ground after Friday's heavy rain.

All of the data used below is available through a Geegeez Gold subscription. Click here to get your first 30 days of Geegeez Gold for just £1.

Draw

The benefit of betting on the final day of this meeting is that draw advantages have usually been established throughout the week so there is generally less guesswork involved.

It looks as though both sides of the course are much faster than the centre of the course so they’ll almost certainly split into two groups here on either side of the track.

It's still worth taking a look at any historical draw advantages in big fields over this 6f distance though.

Looking at low v middle v high, both middle and high hold the edge over low with a PRB of 0.51 for middle and high and 0.48 for low. There’s not much in it and both the win and place percentage data is also very closely matched so there is no strong long term course bias as far as the draw is concerned.

From previous experience we know the supposed bias can switch from one side to another overnight here and it’s worth repeating that middle looks the place NOT to be this week, so those drawn in the middle will most likely track over to their nearest rail.

The individual draw data chart can help show us possible micro biases in the draw. The above seems to indicate that being right on the stands’ side rail can be of benefit. The top three PRB3 figures in the data set belong to stalls 27, 26 and 28 respectively.

Pace

Ascot is generally considered a pretty fair course as far as pace is concerned but is that true over this trip in big fields?

The best win percentages and place percentages here belong to front runners with 10.42% of early leaders going on to win and 25.00% of them finishing in the places.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an advantage to as close to the pace as possible though as the next best success rate belongs to the most patiently ridden runners. Hold up performers have a win percentage of 6.60% and a place percentage of 21.70% which seems to highlight a bias towards extremes of rides. Exactly half of the winners in the data sample were held up early so whether or not those near the rear early have an advantage, they look most likely to supply the winner but they’ll be represented more than any other run style too.

Wokingham Handicap Pace Map

The pace maps for these big field handicaps are always hugely important. Not only do we need to know how much pace there is likely to be but we also want to find out how that pace is distributed across the track.

You could spend hours alone creating a pace map for this race but fortunately Geegeez Gold has done the hard work for us.

I’ve added a red line to show where the field MIGHT split, assuming they do so, although there is no guarantee it will be exactly there. The majority of the definite pace appears to be middle to high. There isn’t much pace above stall 20 but there is pace closer to the far rail. It will be interesting to see which way Desert Safari goes as he would add extra pace to the far side.

There is definite potential for the stands’ side to be taken along at a stronger gallop once they’ve completely split into two but there is definite pace both sides so it should be a relatively fair contest.

Draw and Pace Combination

It's always worth also examining the draw and pace combination heat map for races where there are possible draw or pace biases and once again Geegeez Gold gives us the data in an easy to consume format.

For whatever reason it appears low drawn front runners perform extremely well with a PRB of 0.66. Leading from a high draw, racing in mid division from a central draw or being held up from a central or high draw seem the other ideal draw and pace combinations.

By far the worst record belongs to front runners drawn in the middle. They potentially have to use up too much energy if the field splits getting to the rail AND getting to the lead. If the fields don’t split then dominating a massive field is never going to be easy either. There are several middle drawn pace angles including the relatively well fancied Punchbowl Flyer.

The main takeaway from this data seems to be that those drawn in the middle are best off with patient rides.

The Runners

Here are the leading contenders for this race, in early odds order.

King’s Lynn

Not many run in the King’s Stand as a preparation for this but that’s the route King’s Lynn has gone. You could probably argue the he was both unlucky and flattered in that race. He met trouble in running and could undoubtedly have finished closer but he was also extremely well drawn in hindsight, running on the fastest part of the track and he was held up off an overly strong gallop. In reality he probably ran close to his rating of 107 but that’s not the rating he runs off here, he carries a 5lb penalty for winning a listed contest and runs off 100 so he’s 7lbs well in.

The good news for King’s Lynn backers is that seemingly pretty versatile with regards to the going. He's also well handicapped on his 6f form last season behind Starman. The bad news is that he’s been beaten in three handicaps previously, all off lower marks, and he seems to have improved this season for the drop back to 5f – this will be a very different test.

He’s impossible to rule out confidently but there are enough negatives to suggest he’s a poor bet at around 4/1.

Chil Chil

Still progressive at the age of 5, he clearly improved from first race to second this season having finished runner up on his seasonal debut before winning by 3.5 lengths last time out. Both of those runs came at Newmarket and he does go very well there but he’s also a winner over this course and distance. He’s gone up 13lbs this season which makes winning this very difficult and he looks reliant on fast ground so Friday's rain has to be considered a massive negative. Stall 30 puts him right on the rail though so he can take the shortest route home.

Rohaan

You don’t get many 3yo runners in this and the last winner from the classic generation was Bel Byou back in 1987. He’s a group 3 winner over course and distance so has plenty of class and whilst that win came on good to firm, he won a group 2 next time out in heavy ground so it looks as though any rain won’t bother him.

What is most amazing about this horse is he was rated just 55 in December and now he runs in a handicap off 112. He’ll be seen to better effect here off a strong gallop than he has been in smaller field group races but he’ll need to be a group 1 horse to win this off such a high mark. If that’s the case then he may have been better served competing for twice the prize money in the Commonwealth Cup a day earlier. As a gelding, though, he was not eligible for that contest.

Pendleton

Caught on the line in a course and distance handicap two runs ago before winning at York, dropped back to 5f. He’s gone up 10lbs for those two runs this season but is clearly lightly raced and very progressive and it’s highly likely he’ll be able to defy this mark at some point this season. He’s drawn in stall 2 so can pop straight out on to the far side rail and he’s likely to race prominently. He’s one that will enjoy the ground although very testing conditions perhaps put an even further emphasis on stamina than he is comfortable with.

It’s worth noting that it was Fresh who beat him here earlier this season and that rival reopposes here on 5lbs better terms. Fresh did have the advantage of a recent run though which would give some hope of reversing the form.

Chiefofchiefs

The winner of the Wokingham consolation race last year, he’s been a big improver since dropping in trip and seems the ideal type for these big field handicaps at Ascot. He also ran well in the Victoria Cup this season when beaten 3 lengths into 7th, not ideally placed. It could be argued that he’s not particularly well handicapped but he was an eyecatcher in a strong listed race on seasonal debut at Doncaster and he is still unexposed in big field sprints. He handles cut in the ground but he looks better on fast ground and his best chance of winning this would have been if the rain stayed away.

Fresh

One of the most lightly raced runners in this field and therefore open to more improvement than most. It was mentioned that King’s Lynn got within 2.5 lengths of the classy Starman last season, well in Starman’s previous race he was only a short head in front of none other than Fresh. This runner has progressed well since then producing form figures of 142251 in handicaps.

He’s generally had some very valid excuses when beaten. The ground was perhaps a little lively when a close 4th at Doncaster, he was a nose behind Stone Circle here last season when one of the only runners to make up any ground on the entire card, he bumped into a rejuvenated Brian The Snail at Newcastle (would rate 13lbs higher a couple of months later, Fresh is only 6lbs higher here) and then on seasonal debut this season he was given far too much to do off a slow gallop in a race where the 1st, 3rd and 4th all won shortly after.

He then beat Pendleton here on his latest start, on good to soft ground, and that runner up franked the form by winning well next time out. Lots to like and has run very well here on testing ground previously.

Desert Safari

Not the most consistent but talented on his day. He’s been below par on both good to firm ground and good to soft ground with a win over 5f on fast ground in between those efforts. He’s bumped into Fresh a couple of times in the past twelve months and wouldn’t be guaranteed to beat that runner on either of those runs and he’s looked mostly speed this season so there have to be question marks about this suiting. He’s capable of defying this mark and Frankie Dettori is an interesting jockey booking but he’s drawn right in the middle and there will be other days for this one.

Tis Marvellous

An Ascot specialist who has won here twice and also placed in two previous renewals of this race. He was also 4th to Battaash in last year’s King’s Stand. The placed efforts in this race came off this mark of 101 and also off 99 so he does need to improve on those but he was in good form off a 2lb higher mark last time out, two lengths behind King’s Lynn and now 8lbs better off.

The problem for Tis Marvellous is the distance. It’s not that he doesn’t stay 6f, he’s just around half a stone better at 5f. Both his course wins and all his best runs here have come over the minimum distance. He also prefers fast ground so his fair chance of hitting the frame has probably turned into a slim chance on the very soft ground. Look out for this runner back here in a month’s time in the big field 5f handicap, on fast ground he’d look a good bet there.

Mr Lupton

A winner at York last time out (a course he often does well at) and still 8lbs lower than his peak rating, although that came 4 years ago. He’s finished 8th and 12th off this sort of mark in two attempts at this race and it’s unclear where the extra improvement is going to come from for him to get into the frame this time around.

Gulliver

Has seemingly gone on any ground in the past but seems better with plenty of cut in the ground these days. It’s also worth noting that his four turf wins have all come at York. He finished runner up here on soft ground off a much lower mark back in 2017 and was a good 4th in this last year off a 3lb higher mark so he’d have definite claims on that form. Thoroughly exposed but does have a chance, especially now the rain has fallen. Place claims at the very least.

Hey Jonesy

Last year’s winner. Very much an in and out performer who barely beat a rival home in five start’s after winning this race last year but he bounced back to form last time out at Chester over further than ideal. He was admittedly well placed but the well placed runner up in that race has won since and he now comes into this just 1lb higher than when successful last year. This looks a deeper race this year and making all from stall 12 won’t be easy but he can’t be confidently ruled out with this clearly the target for a long time.

Punchbowl Flyer

Relatively exposed for a 4yo but evidently still improving having won his last two starts including a big field sprint on soft ground at Haydock. Plenty of cut seems important to him so connections will have been delighted to get the rain. He’s made all for his last two wins and won’t find dominating as easy here, especially as he’ll have a little crossing over to do from stall 19.

Great Ambassador **RESERVE**

Interesting if he gets a run. He has been well enough beaten in two starts here last year but both of those came over a mile and the effort on soft ground in last season’s Britannia Handicap wasn’t bad either. He had some interesting form on fast ground as a juvenile, finishing less than a length 2nd to subsequent Group 1 winner Pyledriver and also in a Goodwood maiden when third to runners that would rate 96 and 101. The 4th was subsequently rated 116!

You could argue that he’s better on the all weather, his form figures on artificial surfaces read 2121 whilst his turf form figures read 230773. However he was held up off a slow gallop last time when third on turf off a 1lb higher mark and he did have that good fast ground form on turf as a 2yo. A big field sprint at a course that can suit all weather runners could see a career best. The rain probably isn't ideal but he did perform fairly here on soft ground over a mile at last year's Royal meeting and he may get home better over the shorter trip..

Danzeno

An extremely consistent sort who has finished in the first three in all but two of his last fifteen runs, dating back to the start of the 2019 season. He’s run in this race for the past three years, finishing 17th, 3rd and 9th. He comes into this in good form and is potentially well drawn in 29 but he’s difficult to win with and is probably best at 5f these days, or at least an easier 6f.

The Verdict

It's entirely possible I haven’t mentioned the winner from the above (there have been a couple of 33/1 winners in the past decade) but seven of the last ten winners were 18/1 or under and with some exciting runners near the head of the market there is a very good chance it’s one of those that leads this field home.

It’s worth noting that five year olds do very well in this race, six of the last eight winners were that age. By far the most fancied five year olds this year are Chil Chil and Pendleton. The ground has probably gone against Chil Chil so by far the most appealing 5yo is Pendleton but he might be vulnerable to a stronger stayer late on.

King’s Lynn may well win but he’s a crazy price considering the depth in this contest. Rohaan is probably a bit more interesting than King’s Lynn. It will be a monumental effort to win this off a mark of 112 but even if you don’t like his group race form, he still gave a pound and a short head beating to Diligent Harry who is rated 106 heading into the Commonwealth Cup on Friday so it’s difficult to argue Diligent Harry is badly handicapped. I just have a gut feeling he won’t win from that mark but it will be interesting to see how he goes.

Chiefofchiefs and Tis Marvellous are both thoroughly exposed and would have been interesting each way shouts had the ground been better. Of the exposed brigade it is now Gulliver who appeals most given he has run well here on soft in the past, ran well in the race last year on ground that was probably too fast and he was a bit of an eyecatcher last time out at York, finishing well from miles off the pace.

The unexposed one of major interest though may well be FRESH who looks decent value at around 14/1. He looked well ahead of his mark still when beating Pendleton last time out and that runner up franked the form since. Fresh has run twice over course and distance and he’s been beaten a nose (unluckily) and he’s been victorious by a nose so he clearly goes well here. Really he should be unbeaten in two starts here and this will be the the strongest pace he's had to aim at here. He's weighted to beat Pendleton and really shouldn't be a bigger price than that one.

If Great Ambassador gets a run he'd be interesting but the ground may well have gone against him. If he was particularly strong in the market he might be worth a small win only bet.

Royal Ascot 2021: Day 4 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2021: Day 4 Preview, Tips

Day four of five, Friday, at Royal Ascot features a brace of Group 1's, the Commonwealth Cup and Coronation Stakes, as well as the usual smattering of inscrutible juvenile dashes and impossible full field handicaps. We're guessing on the ground a little at this stage (Wednesday lunchtime) and, given the forecast, I'm working on the basis of somewhere between good to soft and soft. [Why can't it ever just be dry all week for Royal Ascot?]. Let's crack on...

2.30 Albany Stakes (6f, Group 3, 2yo)

Juvenile fillies stretching out to six furlongs opens the Friday card and 15 are due to go to post. With no Wesley Ward wepwesentation, it's an Anglo-Irish affair, the Irish component brought by O'Brien's Senior (Aidan) and Junior (Donnacha). Aidan brings Prettiest, an atypical fast starter for him, who made all at Navan just over a fortnight ago. Indicative of a thawing in the cold war between Darley and Coolmore, she's a Dubawi filly out of, naturally, a Galileo mare - and not just any Galileo mare, but three-time Group 1 winner, Alice Springs: nice pedigree! Prettiest is bred to get further in time but she's also bred to be very, very good.

Donnacha's Elliptic was a winner over five on debut before being given a little too much to do from the back of the field in a six-furlong Curragh conditions event. By first season sire Caravaggio, she'd be a terrific early notch on his score card if prevailing though she looks to have a bit to find on that Curragh effort for all that the stiffer six here may suit.

Hello You would be a significant scorer for the nascent Amo Racing ownership team, spearheaded by football agent, Kia Joorabchian. He has invested significantly, as Tony Stafford alluded to earlier in the week, and an early success on the big stage would doubtless trigger further welcome loosening of the purse strings at a time when a number of racing's wealthiest ownership entities have lost their figureheads.

Getting back to Hello You, she was mightily impressive in sprinting more than six lengths clear of what looked a competitive field in a Wolverhampton novice last month. If you're a little sniffy about it being an all weather race, then note that last year's Albany winner, Dandalla, also won her sole previous start on the all-weather, as did 2014 Albany winner, Cursory Glance; and 2017 Coventry winner, Rajasinghe.

We can see from her running lines (on the 'show sectionals' component of the inline form on the race card) that she was seventh, more than four lengths behind the leader at the second point of call (half a mile from home), and she was still four lengths back in fifth at the two pole, the third call point in the image. A furlong later, the fourth call point, she'd taken a narrow lead which, by the line (another furlong later) she'd extended to six and a half. She's smart.

Team Crisford, father Simon and son Ed, send out Flotus, a daughter of the once subfertile but now fully loaded (!) Starspangledbanner. She was most of five lengths ahead of her closest pursuer in a Goodwood novice run on soft ground. She'll handle conditions and looks to have plenty under the bonnet.

Oscula, the Woodcote winner, has been impressive on the helter-skelter cambers and undulations of Brighton and Epsom the last twice so is clearly a well-balanced and talented filly. Whether she has the same degree of progression of some of her rivals here is another question, as is the expected slower turf. Still, she's answered all questions thus far and adds to the puzzle.

Not many win Newmarket six-furlong novices on decent ground by five lengths-plus, which is testament to the ability of Cachet, a Highclere Thoroughbreds daughter of Aclaim, himself a very good seven furlong horse. That said, the Newmarket form has taken a few knocks, the second, fourth, fifth and seventh all off the board at least once since.

Andrew Balding won the six furlong Coventry on Tuesday and runs Kirsten Rausing's Bobby's Kitten filly, Sandrine. She won a Kempton novice on her only start and had Oscula back in third as well as a next time winner a place behind her. Balding's juveniles usually improve for their first run. Geegeez-sponsored jockey David Probert rides.

The Gosdens' Qatari-owned Sunstrike was nine lengths behind Hello You on debut before winning by a small margin at Kempton; she has plenty to do to reverse places with Hello You.

Albany Stakes tips

The daily jelly-nailing exercise that is a) pinning down the novice form in the book and b) isolating those with most progress to come. It was impossible not to be taken by Hello You's debut in a race where plenty were backed and perhaps she will be the big winner Amo seek after their Mojo Star ran that incredible second in the Derby. The purply-bred Prettiest (5/1) is another expected to be on the premises, and perhaps 16/1 Sandrine can reward each way support at a double figure price and give David P a big winner. I'm sticking mainly with 5/1 Hello You here.

**

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

A three-year-old Group 2 over a mile and a half for the Ascot Derby, as the King Edward VII Stakes was originally known.

Eight go to post one of which, Gear Up, ran in the actual Derby. He was well beaten off there having led and looks to have a fair amount on his plate again; that said, he did win a French Group 1 last October when the going was heavy so might bounce back.

The favourite is Alenquer, who continued his upward trajectory when beating subsequent Derby winner Adayar in the Sandown Classic Trial. That form is working out well further down the finishing order, too, the likes of Sir Lucan scoring in Pattern company since. Alenquer had run two good races on soft ground last term and racing manager Armando Duarte is bullish about his chance. But then, I suppose he would be.

Back in third at Sandown, less than a length behind the winner, was Yibir. He's been beaten twice since, on the quirky pistes of Goodwood and Chester, so while this more conventional circuit might suit better he looks opposable.

A horse I quite like is Sir Mark Todd's Tasman Bay, apple of the former-showjumper-turned-racehorse-trainer's eye (ah, hyphens). A big chap, Tasman Bay was impressive when scooting clear of his rivals in a Newcastle novice, and gallant in defeat to first Hurricane Lane and then John Leeper, both of which contested the Derby (the former finishing third). He has more on again here but is expected to improve with time and racing and he could hit the board.

From the Roger Varian stable comes Title, a maiden winner at the third time of asking three weeks ago at Yarmouth. He did that well having failed by fine margins twice previously and, as a son of Camelot, might appreciate the slight step up in distance and easier ground. He has a bit to find on the book with some of these but should bridge at least some of that gap.

The Coolmore entry is The Mediterranean, a - you guessed it - son of Galileo. He was a close second in a Listed race at Leopardstown over this range a fortnight ago and is another with more to offer.

Gloucestershire, the horse not the county, takes a giant stride up in class from the Kempton maiden he won on his lone juvenile racecourse visit. Trainer Martyn Meade must be pleased with how he's working at home to tackle a gig like this but he will need a chunk more than he showed at Sunbury.

The octet are completed by Belloccio, a Listed winner on soft ground last backend who was well behind Alenquer in the Sandown Classic Trial and Hurricane Lane in the Dante. A return to softer footing may bring him closer to his Esher rivals but it is hard to envisage a full reversal of placings.

The projected pace looks even:

King Edward VII Stakes tips

ALENQUER could be a very good horse and 2/1 understates that a touch for me. He met with a setback which removed any notions of a supplementary Derby entry and yet he comes here bidding to frank the Derby form in a roundabout way. There are others sure to be capable of more but so is the favourite who starts from a higher level of demonstrated ability. I expect he'll just about win.

**

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

A brilliant addition to the Royal Ascot Group 1 roster is this six furlong sprint for three-year-olds only. This year the market is headed by a pair of overseas raiders, one from America and one from France.

French sprinters are not typically as good as British and Irish ones - see the roll of honour for their Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye for confirmation of that (they did get the winner last year) - but our Gallic cousins have a fast filly in the form of Suesa. She is unbeaten in four starts ranging from five and a half to six furlongs, all on softer than good and all at Chantilly, most recently in a brace of Group 3's. She seems tractable in terms of run style, having raced very prominently and from midfield, and has a fine turn of foot albeit that French races are often a little steadier in the early furlongs than this is likely to be. Suesa looks the real deal and has a strong chance of completing the five-timer.

The American runner is Campanelle, Wesley Ward's 2020 Queen Mary and Prix Morny winner. Those two victories prove she can handle this track, soft ground and Group 1 company (at Deauville in the Morny). She ran with credit while not quite getting home in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and this will be her first run since that early November effort. That means we have to take both fitness and progression from two to three on trust; on the flip side, the very fact she's here implies ticks in those boxes: in Wez we truzt.

The shortest of the domestic party is Dragon Symbol, Archie Watson's Cable Bay colt having all but won a Haydock Group 2 last time. That was on heavy ground and it was a first defeat in five races. Oisin Murphy takes over from Adam McNamara and any give in the track is expected to suit.

Supremacy was a good winner of the six furlong Middle Park Stakes, Group 1, last autumn where he beat the proven Group 1 horse, and St James's Palace Stakes second, Lucky Vega. But he clunked last of eight on his 2021 debut having been sent away a shade of odds on. He gets first time blinkers here which is interesting, not necessarily in a good way. This Mehmas colt likes to lead in his races, but so do a few others.

Also prominent in the Newmarket autumn Group 1's last term was Miss Amulet, Ken Condon's filly running second in the Cheveley Park. She followed that up with a fine third - one place in front of Campanelle - at the Breeders' Cup before, as with Supremacy, blowing it big time on seasonal bow. But, unlike that one, Miss Amulet was stretching out to a mile in a true run heavy ground Irish 1000 Guineas. She patently failed to stay under those much more testing conditions than the tight turning firm ground mile at Keeneland. This straight six with a bit of ease might be ideal and she is expected to bounce back to some degree.

Measure Of Magic had fair form as a juvenile and she's won a couple of six furlong good ground Listed contests already this campaign. A step up is required to challenge the pick of these but she's moving in the right direction. Similar comments apply to the Ado McGuinness-trained A Case Of You, winner of four of his five starts either side of the turn of the year. That quartet includes a Group 3 verdict over Lipizzaner, and another G3 score last time out. His run style is just off the pace so this could set up if he's good enough. Soft side of good looks a prerequisite.

And I must mention a favourite of mine, Laws Of Indices, who was less than a length behind A Case Of You last time and has plenty of solid Group 1 form. The harder they go the better it will suit this second string to Ken Condon's Commonwealth Cup bow.

Most of the others don't really look good enough.

The pace map suggests plenty of early sizzle spread right across the track:

Commonwealth Cup tips

A great race which could easily go the way of one of the overseas pair of Campanelle and Suesa. But I'm going to roll the dice each way with a couple of longer prices in the shape of 25/1 Miss Amulet and 16/1 A Case Of You. The former is dropping back to a more suitable trip and the latter looks really nicely progressive and has optimal conditions. A penny win and place on 28/1 Laws Of Indices, too, because he might just bag one of these big ones. Every chance the trio fail to cut any ice but they're a scintilla of value in a very open race. Should be a cracker.

**

4.20 Coronation Stakes (1m, Group 1, 3yo fillies)

The scene for the second Group 1 of the afternoon is the round mile over which Classic generation fillies will strut. The winner of the 1000 Guineas (and second in the French 1000) takes on the Irish and German 1000 Guineas winners in a proper smash up for mid-season mile primacy.

Mother Earth deserves her place at the head of proceedings having beaten all bar Coeursamba in two Classics. She was convincing on good to firm at Newmarket, and also quickened well in soft ground to lead at Chantilly before being run down by the winner that day. However, she only just got best of a four-way photo for second while the Newmarket Guineas form received no boosts from either the Oaks or the Irish Guineas.

That Irish equivalent was snatched on the line by the fast finishing Empress Josephine who needed every single yard to get by better fancied stablemate Joan Of Arc. Soft ground and a well run race were a feature of the Empress's two wins (from four starts) and she may get at least most of what she wants again here. Ryan Moore cannot defect from Mother Earth but he will be acutely aware that this filly, ridden as at the Curragh by Seamie Heffernan, may once more prove an unwelcome thorn in his side.

If those are father Aidan's duo, sons Joseph and Donnacha are both represented, too. Joseph sends last year's Group 1 Fillies' Mile winner Pretty Gorgeous to the party; that G1 triumph was on soft ground and while she was only seventh in the Irish 1000, she was beaten just three lengths after a difficult transit. Stripping fitter here, she'd be another credible player if getting back to her Fillies' Mile level. Frankie Dettori rides.

Donnacha's Shale has the outside post, 13, which will not help but she did beat Pretty Gorgeous twice last season - as well as losing to her twice - including when claiming the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes over seven furlongs. Her two verdicts over PG were on good ground, her two defeats to that one on softer, the balance of her form suggesting she might not want too much rain (for all that she outclassed her rivals on soft to heavy in her maiden).

The Jenny Come Lately is Ed Walker's Primo Bacio, who was fourth in the Fred Darling before seeming to take a big step forward in a York Listed contest over seven furlongs. That was her first attempt at a mile and it was also on good ground; she's yet to race on anything more juicy than that. She looks short enough in the market.

Rejoining the Guineas thread, Novemba is a dark horse having made all in the German 1000, with fully seven and a half lengths back to the second. Dusseldorf, like this race, is a right-handed round mile and stall one will allow David Egan to pursue the same tactic if connections wish to. It's pretty hard to quantify that form but she did quicken smartly and may just be capable of going wire to wire.

The unexposed trio of Alcohol Free, Snow Lantern and unbeaten dual wide-margin winner Potapova are others with bits of chances in a fascinating and seemingly well up to scratch renewal.

Here's the pace map, excluding the overseas raider Novemba who is drawn 1 and will go forward:

Coronation Stakes tips

A great race in prospect. Luck in running could be a factor and one who will probably be out of trouble up front is 14/1 Novemba. She seems to have matured well from two to three and will give us a run for small money. If Novemba is taken on for the lead the likelihood is that this will be quite a test, as it was when Empress Josephine ran down Joan Of Arc at the Curragh. Her quote of 6/1 is slightly more tempting than the 7/2 about Mother Earth. It wouldn't be a surprise to see 6/1 Pretty Gorgeous go close but she won't be on my ticket this time.

**

5.00 Sandringham Stakes (1m, Class 2 handicap, 3yo fillies)

Despite the big field in a handicap on the straight track this typically goes to a filly at the top of the betting lists. Or at least it did prior to 2017, when the previous nine winners were priced 11/1 or shorter. Since then, we've had winners at 20/1, 11/2 and then 33/1 the last twice. And this time it's 12/1 the field. TWELVE to one. Hmm.

Those two double carpet pokes were both trained by Charlie Fellowes and ridden by Hayley Turner so, while Charlie has nothing this time, Hayley rides Professional Widow. Second in three maidens, the Widow made no mistake at Nottingham on handicap bow (1m, good to soft) off 80 last time and is up just three pounds for that.

Jockey braces is a feature of the past six Sandringham winners: before Hayley, Jamie Spencer rode two and before him Frankie Dettori rode two. And, actually, in the four years before that, Richard Kingscote rode two.

Many people are now aware of Jamie Spencer's record on the Ascot straight mile; it sets up perfectly for his patient pace judgement. And, while it always looks dreadful when it doesn't quite come off, that's the nature of the riding style and all punters backing Spencer should know it comes with the territory. For me he's one of the best riders in the weighing room and has one of the best clocks of any jockey riding in Britain: excellent on the front end, excellent (in the right circumstances) from the back.

Let's put some factual meat on that rhetoric bone: since 2008, Spencer has ridden 33 horses in 20+ runner Ascot straight mile handicaps. He's won on four of them (+28 at SP) and made the first four on eleven occasions (each way +64.75). In the same time frame in all field size handicaps over the same course and distance, he's won 12 of 59 (+70.5) and placed on 26 (each way +124.68).

The Charlie Hills-trained Prado gets Spencer's services this time and she's a 33/1 chance at time of writing. It's easy to make her case: in four career starts she won a Salisbury novice before running (a distant) second in a soft ground Group 3 and then a respectable sixth in the Group 2 May Hill Stakes. Her most recent, and only 2021, spin was fourth over the round mile here, a piece of form that ties in with Primo Bacio in the previous race through Creative Flair. We know she'll be held up, as she has been in all her races to date. No better man and all that.

One who showed impressive acceleration in her most recent two races is Glesga Gal. She was flagged on the Fast Finishers report for the second of the pair as a result of the first, and she again showed that rapid last section as can be seen in the image below.

The three coloured blocks relate to 'OMC' sections, which is simply shorthand for the Opening, Middle and Closing parts of the race. As can be seen, in this case over seven furlongs that equated to the start to five furlong pole (S-5), five out to two out (5-2), and two out to the finish (2-0). The top trio of blocks are the RACE sectional data, and the trio inline against the winner are the RUNNER sectional data.

The green shades at the top indicate a fairly evenly run race. Compare against that the dark orange for Glesga Gal's closing quarter mile which she completed in 22.99 seconds and a finishing speed (i.e. the time of that section compared with the time she took to complete the whole race) of 107%. That's impressive.

Finally, look at the running lines bottom left in the image - the five bold figures with superscript numbers adjacent. These equate the five 'call points' - simply points during the race - and we can see what they are from the remaining data in the same row as the running lines, namely S-5, 5-4, 4-2, 2-1, and 1-0. Anyway, from the running lines we know that she was more than three lengths back in fifth at the third call (4-2, so the two furlong pole), had closed to within half a length of the leader by the furlong pole before running away by most of four lengths at the line.

Hopefully for some readers that was worth teasing out, because I strongly believe sectional timing information is a powerful attribute in the form reading kit bag.

Long and short, if she can transfer that acceleration from a turning all weather circuit over seven-eighths to a straight turf mile she'll be a player.

One other to mention in a race where I could mention 16 and miss the winner is Friendly from the Ballydoyle team. She was 'just another' filly from that top tier production line prior to the Irish 1000 Guineas where, as a 100/1 shot, she ran to within three lengths of the winner, eventually finishing sixth. She's still a maiden and this would be a great race in which to break her duck. A mark of 102 and top weight won't make it easy but a replication of the Guineas effort would probably be just about enough.

Sandringham Stakes tips

12/1 the field says it all. My three off the tee - all each way with as many extra places as you can find - are the Jamie Spencer-ridden Prado (33/1), the sectional fast finishing filly Glasga Gal (14/1), and is-she-or-isn't-she-really-as-good-as-she-appeared Irish 1000 Guineas sixth, Friendly (12/1).

**

5.35 Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes (1m4f, Class 2 handicap, 3yo+)

A big field mile and a half handicap which is framed by one of those counter-intuitive draw biases with which regular readers will be familiar. How is it that a turning track favours middle to high stalls over the lowest berths? Part of it is to do with low numbers either doing too much too early or getting caught in traffic, I guess, but whatever the reason it's a 'thing' and it might impact the chances of runners here. Note, as ever, that nothing is cast in stone and horses have won from all draws; so don't be tearing up the rule book if trap one gets it done!

Overlaying draw awareness onto the pace map gives this technicolour yawn of a visual:

The green zone is middle but not held up and I'll work loosely in that section for my guesses.

Tritonic was a Grade 2 winner over hurdles in the spring on good ground and has Ryan Moore in the plate. He was fifth in the Triumph Hurdle and, before hurdling, he was a consistent handicapper at this level.

Ben Coen was a bit too far back last time aboard Mirann for his guv'nor Johnny Murtagh but that run showed this lad's suitability for a job like this. He won't mind any ease in the turf and looks well-bred (by Motivator) for a step up to a mile and a half.

The favourite at time of writing is Aaddeey, trained by the Crisfords and ridden by James Doyle. A lightly raced hold up horse he bounded away from his field when trying this trip for the first time the last day; he's up nearly a stone for that but it might not be quite enough. He looks a Group horse for all that he might need luck to show it today.

Zabeel Champion, trained by Mark Johnston, was 'rewarded' for winning his last three races by receiving the unkindest cut of all. Gelded first time, then, he's expected to be close up and may hang on for a place.

Winner of three of his last four, Dark Pine deserves his place. Those victories were all at shorter trips and, as a son of sprinter Dandy Man, I'd have some reservations about stamina for this assignment.

No such reservations with the Gosdens/Dettori entry, Grand Bazaar, who has won a similar race at Newmarket and is closely pegged with Zabeel Champion on his most recent outing.

One with the wrong run style and drawn low is Valyrian Steel. In spite of those potentially insurmountable negatives, I was really taken by this horse when he won on debut at Newcastle. Eight and a half lengths off the lead at the first call that day, he won by half a length going away. He followed up in less flashy fashion next time and has since won two of four further starts. A big strider I feel like this could be his kind of thing.

As always, every chance the winner has eluded me in the above.

Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes tips

Very tricky. Too tricky, really. I want a tiny tickle on 12/1 Valyrian Steel, and another little bit each way on 11/1 Tritonic, and a third little bit win only on 13/2 Aaddeey. Interest bets only, though.

**

6.10 Palace Of Holyrood Stakes (5f, Class 2 handicap, 3yo)

A five furlong sprint handicap to watch somewhere with the wallet safely locked away. 25 three-year-olds spread across the track and hurtling licketty-split for the jam stick. This, my friend, is a cavalry charge!

Get It is an interesting pace horse in the low numbers. Fourth in the Windsor Castle last year over course and distance he won a small field novice at Wolverhampton on his sole spin this term (first off a wind op) and it looks as though trainer Clive Cox and connections have tried to protect his mark for this.

Even lower in the stalls is Caroline Dale, third in last year's Group 2 Queen Mary at the Royal meeting, and the Group 3 Princess Margaret over six here, and in a Listed contest at Newbury (soft). This will be her first run of the season so fitness is taken on trust, but she's quick and proven over course and distance.

23 others who could win...

Palace Of Holyrood Stakes tips

Too hard, but I'll have a florin each way on 20/1 Get It and 33/1 Caroline Dale and watch the high numbers sweep the board!

**

And that's that for our preview pieces this week. I hope you've been entertained if not informed by them, and that your betting has been both fun and profitable. It's not easy at Royal Ascot, nor is it supposed to be! Saturday is a day for you to find your own way (assuming you haven't been already), and I wish you luck with that when the time comes.

For now, though, thank you very much for reading.

Matt

Royal Ascot 2021: Day 3 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2021: Day 3 Preview, Tips

I’m taking over from Matt for day three of Royal Ascot, but don’t worry, Matt will be back tomorrow. Thursday can often be one of the toughest betting days and with no less than three big field handicaps bringing the curtain down on this card most will be looking for some early winners!

The biggest question mark hanging over Thursday’s racing is the weather, and of course it’s effect on the ground. There are thunderstorms forecast overnight from Wednesday into Thursday and everyone knows how unpredictable these can be. You can get hit with 40mm of rain whilst the next town along can get nothing. They put 10mm of water on the straight course on both Saturday and Monday just to keep it good to firm so it will take plenty of rain to soften this surface, but plenty of rain may well be coming.

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

Not much to go on here! Early pace is no disadvantage over the minimum trip here and a high draw is generally preferable over this trip. If there is a real star in this field they’d be well capable of overcoming either of those biases though.

Wesley Ward won this in 2013 and 2018 and there will be no hanging around for his runners. Lucci appears to be the stable first string and given he won just a 4 runner race last time he’s very difficult to assess, other than he looks very quick! He could be difficult to peg back from his high draw. Stable mate Nakatomi beat 10 runners when winning his only start on the dirt last time, also showing loads of speed. What effect any rain has on this pair is unknown, but Wesley Ward’s contingent generally prefer fast ground.

Aidan O’Brien also has two wins in this in the past decade and he saddles Cadamosto here. Amazingly he’s been a non runner six times already this season, twice because of soft ground. His sire No Nay Never won this in 2013 and his progeny often act on softer ground so he wouldn’t be without a hope if plenty of rain does fall but stall 2 might not be ideal.

Clive Cox’s runners massively outperform market expectations at Royal Ascot and he won this in 2012 with Reckless Abandon. This year he is represented by Instinctive Move who won well at Bath last time out. That form has been let down a few times since.

Only one runner can boast two wins from two runs and that is William Haggas’ Second Wind. He’s led on both starts so far, defied a penalty in a novice race beating a subsequent winner, looks well drawn in stall 15 and could be interesting at a fair price.

Norfolk Stakes Tips

Lots of unknowns so difficult to bet with much confidence but SECOND WIND has fewer question marks than most and he’s also won on both good to firm and good to soft which is a bonus ahead of an unsettled weather forecast. It will be interesting to watch the Wesley Ward runners in the market regardless of what happens with the weather.

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

A likely short priced favourite here in the shape of Mohaafeth for William Haggas. He was relatively well fancied for the Derby before being pulled out because of the rain so he definitely won’t want to see lots of wet stuff and is likely to be withdrawn if the ground is on the soft side. He was impressive in a small field last time out at listed level and looks a very exciting son of Frankel.

One Ruler carries a 4lb penalty in this courtesy of his Group 3 Autumn Stakes victory last season and he faces a quick turnaround having been well beaten in the Derby just twelve days ago. Both his runs this term have come in Group 1 races so sixth places in both the 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby can be forgiven and he might find this intermediate trip suits perfectly. He’s versatile with regards to the ground but is vulnerable to an improver.

One feature of this race is a potential lack of pace Aidan O’Brien’s Roman Empire looking the likely pace angle.

It’s not easy to make all over this course and distance, even with an easy lead, and he’ll need to improve to take this having been well enough beaten last time in the Dante.

Given a lack of strong pace it could pay to race prominently here. In handicaps in similar conditions prominent racers have a 47.62% place strike rate. Movin Time is likely to be prominent and he looked an improved performer at 3 when taking a maiden in fairly impressive style last time out. The runner up in that maiden won by 6 lengths next time out and runs in Wednesday’s Queen’s Vase and Movin Time looks capable of further progress over middle distances this season.

Hampton Court Stakes Tips

Not an easy race to figure out but it could be worth chancing MOVIN TIME to prove up to this level (and possibly better). He may enjoy a tactical advantage and whilst several of these have already tried and failed to win good races, he comes here very much on the up.

3.40 Ribblesdale Stakes (1m4f, Group 2, 3yo fillies)

A key form line here could be Newbury’s Fillies Trial Stakes in which the unbeaten Eshaada edged out Gloria Mundi with Aristea and Twisted Reality back in 3rd and 4th respectively. Gloria Mundi was well placed off a slow gallop that day and is poorest drawn of the quartet here so she could be worth taking on. Eshaada undoubtedly looks the one with most potential of the remaining trio and she’s also the best drawn here so she looks interesting, especially if there is rain.

John Gosden has won three of the last four renewals of this race and if he doesn’t win it with Gloria Mundi, the mount of Frankie Dettori, he still has chances with Taslima and Loving Dream. The former looked in need of further when third at listed level last time out. The winner of that race finished 2nd to Snowfall in the Oaks since so it wasn’t a bad listed race but you’d have preferred Taslima to have shown a bit more speed, even at 10f. Loving Dream was well enough beaten in the Lingfield Oaks Trial on soft ground and on his previous good ground 2nd she has plenty of work to do to reverse form with the better fancied Noon Star here.

In hindsight Noon Star’s 3.75 length defeat at the hands of Snowfall looks pretty good form. She’s impeccably bred being by Galileo out of Midday and looks the potential class act in the field, both on form so far and breeding, so she shouldn’t be underestimated.

Aidan O’Brien won this in 2014, 2016 and 2018 so anything he runs commends plenty of respect. This year’s sole runner is Divinely, who has looked happiest on a soft surface to date. It’s a quick turnaround after the Epsom Oaks though so whilst she’d have a decent chance on form, especially if it turns soft, she’ll need to have recovered quickly from a fairly tough race.

Ribblesdale Stakes Tips

An open contest which seems to be the feature of the day. NOON STAR looks a very promising type who has shown form on a variety of going so far which is enough to persuade me she could be the one in this. Eshaada is potentially the biggest danger whilst Divinely has the form to win this but he’s a risk after contesting the Oaks so recently.

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

Can Stradivarius equal Yeats’ record four wins in a row in this? Rain would be considered a negative for him but he’s won this on soft for the past two years so it’s possible all rain does is make him a better price.

This definitely looks a tougher renewal than last year though. Tough front runner Subjectivist won’t mind any rain and although he’s yet to prove his stamina, he’s got better the further he has gone. Last year’s Derby winner Serpentine could hamper Subjectivist’s chances though by taking him on early.

Stamina was always going to be Trueshan’s forte as he made his second racecourse start over a mile and a half. He enjoyed the step up to two miles when beating Stradivarius in the Long Distance Cup by a wide margin. That form shouldn’t be taken literally but Trueshan confirmed himself a smart horse when finishing runner up to Japan at Chester last month. He’s fairly ground dependent so will want as much rain as possible but if it comes he’d have a good chance.

Spanish Mission has improved as a stayer in the past year or so and won what was admittedly a pretty poor renewal of the Doncaster Cup last year. His Yorkshire Cup victory last time out was a career best when accounting for Santiago who reopposes here. He’s one that won’t want any rain and might not enjoy this test as much as some of the slowly run races he has been running in over shorter.

Connections will be hoping the extra distance can help Santiago reverse that form with Spanish Mission. He got within 2.25 lengths of Stradivarius at Goodwood last year and the key to this horse could be rain. His best performances seem to have come when getting cut in the ground and a combination of this trip on softish ground could see a career best, especially with a couple of front runners in the field.

Ascot Gold Cup Tips

The going will have a massive effect on this race. On faster ground STRADIVARIUS looks a very good thing to equal Yeats’ record. He can often come there like he’s going to win by a wide margin only to end up toughing it out. In fact eleven of his last twelve wins have come by a winning distance of 1.75 lengths or less which is relatively 'unimpressive' for a horse considered a bit of a superstar. If you can find an ‘unders’ bet on the winning distance that might make him much better value.

If the ground was to end up softer than good Stradivarius would still be the most likely winner but the each way value could swing towards SANTIAGO who is still unexposed as a stayer and has spent most of his career racing on ground that was probably faster than ideal.

5.00 Britannia Stakes (1m, class 2 handicap, 3yo)

All eyes will be on the Royal Hunt Cup ahead of placing any bets on this and that’s the race most likely to highlight a potential draw bias. Without the benefit of knowing the Hunt Cup result at the time of writing we’ll rely on the Geegeez data to give us the draw pointers.

The data suggests no strong draw bias here but it’s worth remembering that sometimes nearside is favoured and sometimes far side is favoured, which is why both sides of the draw have performed well. It can be easier to get a run when drawn on a flank and the pace data strongly suggests you want to be with something that is patiently ridden so backing central drawn hold up performers will often be riskier than wide drawn hold ups.

Mithras is the early market leader in this for Gosden and Dettori. He only just got home in a traditionally strong Newbury handicap on seasonal debut but this year’s renewal has worked out really poorly and the fact that Mithras was well enough beaten at Sandown next time out is very disappointing and in line with the form of that Newbury run, even if this latest run was in listed company. Perhaps the ground was too soft last time out (might be soft again here) but an 8lb rise for that narrow Newbury win might still be harsh and he could one to take on.

Air To Air is one I’ve had in mind for this race for a while, he looks one of those horses that will be ideally suited by Ascot’s straight mile. He’s been called a few names for seemingly not going through with his effort in the past but after being gelded in March he seems an improved horse. He may have been beaten over 4 lengths when odds on on his following start but he was the only one to make up any ground over what now seems an inadequate 7f. That race has worked out extremely well too.

Bowman, who very much got the run of the race, hasn’t run well since but the runner up has won three times since, the 3rd won on his next start and the 5th went close last time out. Air To Air has since won twice himself and he took apart a fairly decent field last time out on his first start over a mile. He’s a bit more exposed than some but he’s improving and looks the typical Spencer sort on this straight course. His latest win came on fast ground but his previous win in novice company came on soft ground. That softer ground might not be perfect for him but at least he’s proved his versatility.

Roger Varian won this last year and assuming his reserve doesn’t get in he has two high drawn runners in this. Raadobarg has won all three starts this season including the Silver Bowl at Haydock in heavy ground last time out. He’s chased leaders in all three starts this season and could end up too close to the pace, plus he’ll want plenty of rain. Dinoo is the other one for Varian. He’s still a maiden after three runs but split two 100+ rated horses on debut on fast ground before blowing the start in a Group 3 on his second and final start last season. He was once again slowly away in a maiden this season and poorly placed off a modest gallop. You’d hope with a mark of 93 he could have overcome this sort of thing but the mile promises to suit and he could run well if the ground stays fast.

A 7lb rise for winning a 5 runner handicap by less than a length seems a harsh punishment for Aerion Power’s latest success but he shouldn’t be underestimated. The runner up and 3rd came out of that contest and won making that 7lb rise look a bit more acceptable. Stall 1 and a prominent racing style are offputting though and he’d appeal more for something like the mile handicap at Sandown on Eclipse day or one of the 3yo handicaps at the July Festival the following week.

Britannia Stakes Tips

Many of the fancied runners in this seem quite likely to race not far off the pace which is rarely the place to be over the straight mile, especially in this race where there is a lot of early pace spread across the track. Perhaps some will be ridden more patiently but nothing is likely to be ridden with more patience than AIR TO AIR. Confidence would be increased if the ground gets no softer than good and if some of the lower drawn runners go close in the Royal Hunt Cup.

5.35 King George V Stakes (1m4f, class 2 handicap, 3yo)

Only a handicap but often won by a very smart sort, last year’s winner Hukum scored at Group 3 level later in the season. The draw may have a fairly large bearing on the result here.

A massive 17 of last 24 12f handicaps with 16 runners or more on ground ranging from good to firm down to good to soft have been won by double figure draws. Low draws have a PRB of just 0.41 with middle draws and high draws earning PRBs of 0.54 and 0.55. Fairly strong preference would be for something breaking from stall 8 or higher and this information hopefully makes narrowing down this difficult field a little easier.

Handicap debutant Nagano heads the market early for Roger Varian and he’s going to have to be extremely useful to win this from stall 2. He looks at least fairly handicapped off 94 based on his win over Mystical Dawn on his penultimate run (that runner has since gone close off 90) but he’s difficult to back from this draw in such a competitive race.

This is often won by a top trainer so it’s a surprise that John Gosden hasn’t had the winner of this since 1997. He runs First Light here who might be just about okay in stall 7, for all higher would probably have been better. Some will see form with John Leeper and be drawn to that but in that race, when First Light was 3rd, Moktasaab was 2nd, 2.5 lengths ahead of First Light, and he’s since been beaten in a handicap off 79. First Light has since won a soft ground Ripon maiden by 12 lengths but that race didn’t take much winning and there are probably better handicapped rivals, especially if it doesn’t turn soft here.

Sir Lamorack represents Aidan O’Brien who won this in 2019 and he seems to have a nice draw in 11. He ran on soft and heavy as a 2yo but his two runs this season have come on the all weather and good ground. He was withdrawn at Chester due to good to soft ground which might be an indication this runner will want the rain to stay away. He’s already proved himself in handicaps, he was an easy winner of a 10f handicap at Leopardstown last time out and the placed horses from that have placed again so it was okay form. He’s up 15lbs for that win so he’ll need to improve for the step up in trip, which he should do.

Kondo Isami is interesting on his York form. He beat Tashkhan by a short head there and Tashkhan won 3.25 lengths next time out. That runner actually reopposes here but Kondo Isami is 8lbs better off this time around so should have no problem confirming form. Kondo Isami got collared late on next time out at Doncaster over further and he might not have quite stayed, but he was also beaten by a runner completing a four timer so it wasn’t a bad effort. He looks Mark Johnston’s best chance and is well enough drawn in 9.

If the ground got very testing one who might prove overpriced is Act Of Wisdom. He was a heavy ground winner over 10f as a 2yo which suggests he’ll be a strong stayer and fast ground didn’t suit last time out at Newmarket. That 5th last time was still a good effort though with the winner and 3rd winning next time out. From stall 14 he could outrun his odds if the word soft appears in the going by race time.

King George V Stakes Tips

Plenty in this who could be anything and it’s a race that is potentially more interesting going forward than it is a betting medium here. If having a punt the value in this contest could lie with KONDO ISAMI if the ground is no worse than good, he’ll enjoy a likely fast pace and has plenty in his favour. If it’s softer than good then ACT OF WISDOM would come into the equation and he could be a bit underestimated in this. They might not be as potentially well handicapped as some but are both capable of running into a place at least granted suitable ground conditions.

6.10 Buckingham Palace Stakes (7f, class 2 handicap, 3yo+)

What an easy race to end the card with! As usual in these contests the draw and pace will play their part. By the time this race is run there may be a clear draw bias to either side but without that information at the time of writing it seems an advantage to be drawn in either low double figures or very high (20+).

There isn’t such a need to be held up over this distance as there is on the straight mile. There is still some benefit to being patiently ridden but early pace holds up much better than it does in big fields over a furlong further.

You don’t see many 3yos run in this but William Haggas heads the early betting with Aldaary. He’s a course and distance winner but might have been better served by a mile and he’ll definitely want the rain.

Boardman is interesting chasing a four timer. The way he travels through his races means he should be ideally suited by this course but he’s potentially drawn a little lower than ideal in 9. He beat Ejtilaab last time out and that horse won his next start. He’s another that wants a little bit of rain.

One that won’t want the rain is Karibana who was a bit of an eyecatcher on soft ground here in May before winning at Chelmsford, nailing a well handicapped front runner on the line. He looks like he’d be ideally suited by fast ground at this course and although stall 11 is okay statistically a higher draw might have been preferable.

Persuasion has to be of some interest. He’s looks to have been saved for this since winning at Haydock six weeks ago.

The runner up has won since from a 3lb higher mark, the 4th went extremely close next time out on ground that didn’t suit and has the chance to frank the form on Wednesday in the finale and even the 5th went close on his first run on fast ground since. Persuasion only went up 3lbs for that win and whilst most of his form is on faster ground, he has finished 2nd on heavy ground so even if the ground softens he should be fine. Stall 24 looks good at this stage.

Buckingham Palace Stakes Tips

If the ground stayed on the fast side I’d be inclined to forgive Karibana for stall 11 (low double figures do have a decent record after all) and get involved each way. If betting early or simply looking for a solid selection in this contest PERSUASION seems to tick all the boxes and he can even be backed if the bad weather hits the course as he should be fine regardless of underfoot conditions, something that can’t be said about many here. The majority of the pace in this race is drawn high which could give Persuasion an extra edge over Karibana, even if the ground stays fast.

Royal Ascot 2021: Day 2 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2021: Day 2 Preview, Tips

Wednesday, day 2, and another heptagon of sides to take or, in plain English, seven races to decode. Just seven sides to take in the feature Group 1, the Prince of Wales's Stakes at 4.20 also, but they promise a superb race. That main course is for later, before then we've some delicious-looking amuse bouches through which to work...

2.30 Queen Mary Stakes (5f, Group 2, 2yo)

Juvenile fillies over the minimum kick us off and, this being Royal Ascot, Wesley has a live one at the top of the 22-runner list. She's called Twilight Gleaming and she'll be ridden by the brilliant Puerto Rican jockey John Velazquez. Second on the main (dirt) track at Keeneland on debut, she was an easy seven length winner when switched to the turf course at Belmont next time. You can watch that race here. It is hard to say what she beat, but the time was good even allowing for her being eased down.

As with most Wes runners she's fast from the gate, leading early at Belmont through an opening quarter in 22.22 seconds (they do have 'run up' so that's not from a standing start). She'll get the stiff Ascot five, will probably lead early, and will take some pegging back. Ward is 4-from-13 in this, and has amassed a further three placed runners.

Aidan O'Brien meanwhile is 0-for-15 - Aidan O'fer as my US pal DiLo likes to call him. O'Brien has saddled five placed fillies but, since Sophisticat (who?) was placed in 2001, his record reads 0000842909. And yet, here's Yet, a beautifully-bred daughter of War Front exiting a Dundalk maiden and currently second favourite. Only two horses have emerged from that contest, beaten off the board three times between them. In Yet's defence, she and the second (the reopposing Orinoco River) were seven clear of the rest and the second has not raced since either. We've kind of seen this show before, though, haven't we?

More credible of the Irish, but also more exposed, might be Quick Suzy, representing predominantly jumping trainer, Gavin Cromwell. She was touched off in a Naas Group 3 over six furlongs (soft) last time, when leading but not quite getting home. The winner was a 50/1 poke, the third was almost six lengths away and the 2/7 favourite was fourth. She'd previously won a six furlong Curragh maiden (yielding) by almost six lengths and she arguably brings the best established form to the party. But she's yet to race on fast ground. The drop back to a stiff five might be fine if she can handle the firmness; she won't probably have as much improvement as some of her rivals but they still have to show they can get to her level let alone beyond it.

Nymphadora, trained by Andrew Balding, emerged from arguably the hottest maiden of the year so far. That Newmarket race won by Desert Dreamer has thrown nine UK winners from 21 subsequent starters:

Nymphadora's part in upholding the form was snugly winning the Listed Marygate Stakes at York. The Marygate has been the springboard to Queen Mary success for four fleet fillies.

That maiden's winner, Desert Dreamer, lines up here having won again since, over six furlongs (good, Newmarket). The form is working out well enough with second placed Dashing Rat beaten only by subsequent Woodcote winner Oscula, and third placed General Panic winning a novice next time. Oisin Murphy will ride and I think his filly's chance is understated in the market.

There is a second US raider in the line up, and Frankie steers her. She's called Artos and is trained by George Arnold. Beaten far enough on debut the daughter of Kodiac got the verdict in a tight picture on her sole subsequent spin. That was over five and a half furlongs at Churchill (firm), so she ought to see this out. Whether she's good enough is another matter entirely.

Nick Bradley Racing are one of the owners of the hour, and they've done brilliantly with their buying. Mas Poder was a 22/1 first time starter when only two lengths fourth to Nymphadora in the Marygate and, having run green there, she might narrow the gap with her debut vanquisher.

There are others who deserve their place here, too.

Queen Mary Stakes tips

I imagine Wesley's filly, Gleaming Twilight, will go very close here, and 7/2 is probably fair enough. She might be an in running back to lay for those into such things as it will be a bit of a shock if she doesn't lead. After her I'm inclined to swing at prices in the form of 14/1 Desert Dreamer and 20/1 Mas Poder. There are plenty of extra places if you shop around and want to roll each way.

**

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

A three-year-old Group 2 over the St Leger trip these days, and a strong trial for that final Classic as a consequence. Aidan O'Brien has won half of the last 14 renewals, so no 'ofer' gags here. And this is a race that perennially goes to a fancied runner, 19 of the last 24 winners returning at 6/1 or shorter.

That gives a shortlist of one: Wordsworth, the Aidan O'Brien-trained 11/4 favourite. Second in two of his three runs either side of a big field ten furlong Curragh maiden win, he was last spotted straining to within a neck of the fairly well-touted Sir Lucan. He has progression and proven stamina on his side, and the fact Ryan Moore has opted for this one over Arturo Toscanini implies he's stable first string (though we all know that supposedly lesser runners from the yard usurp their better-fancied barn mates frequently).

Arturo for his part was a never nearer second of nine in a ten furlong Group 3 at the Curragh, which suggests this sort of range should enable him to conduct himself (geddit?!) meaningfully.

I mentioned Joseph's Royal Ascot blank yesterday and, while that might already be consigned to the dustbin of history, it remains a factor in my considerations as I write this (Monday afternoon) with regards to Ruling, a thrice-raced maiden albeit most recently when staying on over a mile and a half in a Leopardstown Listed.

Perhaps the biggest threat from the home team will be progressive handicapper Dancing King, a well-related but cheaply-bought-as-a-yearling (ah, hyphens) son of Free Eagle trained by the former Mr Queen's Vase, Mark Johnston. He, like Aidan, has seven wins in the race to his name; but unlike Aidan the last of them arrived in 2014. Since then, eight of Johnston's nine Vase runners have been double digit odds; he's still managed a 20/1 fourth and a 16/1 third.

Dancing King is battle hardened, progressive in small field handicaps and stays well. That might not be quite enough against some regally-bred and thoroughly unexposed rivals, but he'll give a run for pennies.

Possible pace map looks as follows, though plenty of these could run to a different style being so lightly raced:

Queen's Vase tips

I've been burned opposing APOB hotpots in this a number of times in the past decade, and I've finally got the message... in time for him to clunk no doubt! But it's easy to see the case for Wordsworth finishing "lonely as a cloud" in front of his field. 11/4 is all right based on trainer records.

**

3.40 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (1m, Group 2, 4yo+ fillies & mares)

The more seasoned ladies step to the fore in this Group 2 the favourite for which is Lady Bowthorpe. That looks spot on after Lady B, trained by William Jarvis, ran closest to none other than Palace Pier in the G1 Lockinge a month ago. Prior to that she'd won a nine furlong Group 2 at Newmarket, a fair leap from the Class 4 all weather handicap she took this time last year. That's the best piece of form in the field.

That is, arguably, unless you take a literal perspective on the Middleton Stakes where Queen Power bolted up by eight lengths. With a couple of the beaten mares there running second in Group 3's since, there is at least some substance to the literal case. But that was ten furlongs. She'd previously been second to Lady Bowthorpe in that nine furlong Dahlia Stakes, and was third in this last year - beaten three lengths - when seeming to lack the miler's gear change. It feels like this might be the wrong slot for her though I fully appreciate that Sir Michael Stoute has been at this game a minute or two longer than me.

Perhaps the most interesting contender is the wildly progressive Double Or Bubble. She's had just four races, with only one horse finishing in front of her and that on debut. The Chris Wall charge was a four length scorer in a Class 2 handicap last time over seven furlongs, though beaten horses from there are 0 from 19 since the race which dents the form somewhat. There's plenty of stamina on the dam's side (by Dalakhani) so she ought to stay the mile.

Onassis won the Sandringham last season at 33/1 and also bagged a heavy ground Listed race two back. She's a likeable and versatile filly but doesn't look good enough. Lavender's Blue has little to find with Lady Bowthorpe and Queen Power on Dahlia form - she was a half length third - which makes her ostensibly interesting at double figure odds. She's run plenty of good races in defeat but was thumped in this last season.

Champers Elysees was a huge flag bearer for the emergence of Johnny Murtagh as a trainer last season, winning the Group 1 Matron Stakes, but she's dipped below that high water mark in a trio of fourth placed efforts since. A return to a sounder surface could see her improve on recent efforts and she's a square price.

And one other at hail mary odds is Indie Angel, trained by the Gosdens and ridden by Frankie Dettori. Surely that already means she can't go off at her current quote of 20/1. She wasn't far back in the Dahlia and the fact she's pitched in here might be a bit of a clue.

The Duke Of Cambridge Instant Expert looks like this - remember, green is good, amber OK, red not so hot (and don't totally believe small sample sizes)

Duke Of Cambridge Stakes tips

This revolves around Lady Bowthorpe, who laid to rest any suspicions that she could only operate at Newmarket when giving Palace Pier a race in Group 1 company at Newbury last time. She's not the wrong price at 2/1 but nor is there much margin for error. No, I'll watch her win while backing a 'value alternative'! Most appealing in that context is 14/1 Champers Elysees, a Group 1 winner over a mile just four starts ago. She has to defy the G1 penalty but gives only two pounds to the most credible of her rivals, and five to the rest. If the faster ground wakes her up, she's a big player. If...

**

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

A cracker for the day's highlight, the Group 1 Prince Of Wales.

Love has been backed in the early wagering skirmishes as though she's as least as good as last season. We have a lot in our lives - a lot of horses in our lives - so it's worth a quick refresher as to Love's 2020. It was only three races but, like, WoW!

First up, she sizzled more than four clear of her 14 rivals in the 1000 Guineas. Then she romped nine - NINE - clear of the rest in the Oaks (seems like small beer when next to Snowfall's 16 length destruction in the same race this year!). And finally, in the Yorkshire Oaks, she cruised to a five length verdict. Nothing got even remotely close to her.

But. But... now she goes against the boys and she rocks up to the racetrack for the first time in exactly 300 days. In a hot renewal of the Prince Of Wales's Stakes. She will need to be on song.

Last year's winner, by almost four lengths, Lord North defends having won the Group 1 Dubai Turf in his previous run. He was beaten a few times in between and overcame a shallower field than this a year ago. It's not good general practice to oppose Frankie and Johnny (and Thady) but I'm against at the price.

Aidan O'Brien saddles Armory as well as Love. Short enough at around 3/1 he won the Group 2 Huxley Stakes at Chester and the Group 3 Royal Whip at the Curragh either side of his best effort, a two length third in the Irish Champion Stakes. He was a 66/1 chance that day, a price in line with his form either side in the context of that championship race, and I don't really believe it. Again, you pays your money and you takes your chances.

Audarya won Group 1's in France and America last autumn, and this being her seasonal debut implies a similar campaign awaits. I love James Fanshawe and I love this mare; but I don't think she'll be quite ready this time.

I'm struggling to make a case for the 114-rated My Oberon who would look badly handicapped off that mark if eligible for such races. He was whacked in the Lockinge, was whacked in a Redcar Listed as 11/8 fav, and was second in a pair of Group 3's last year. He did win a four-runner Group 3 on good ground when trying a trip beyond a mile for the first time and that must be the key to his case: the step up to ten furlongs is credible on pedigree (Dubawi out of a Sea The Stars mare). If so, they've taken long enough to get there and are hardly pitching in half-cocked in this top rank Group 1. Again, connections are greatly respected but this looks a tough task.

Similar comments apply to Sangarius. And yet I've had a small each way ante post (three places, burglary). Sir Michael Stoute is justly renowned for taking his time to allow horses to achieve their optimum performance levels as they mature, and this chap looks off that production line for all that he showed some precocity at two. As a juvenile he won twice before a midfield effort in the Dewhurst, finishing the season on an official rating of 106. At three he had just two starts, winning the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes over course and distance on the second of them (having prepped on the Sandown Brigadier Gerard card), and ended the season rated 113. Last year brought a further brace of efforts, again winning on the latter occasion, this time in Listed grade. End of season rating 114.

He still has seven or eight pounds to find with the pick of his rivals, but in each of the last two years he's progressed to win. He was three lengths behind Armory on debut this term (remember, that one is 3/1 here) and four lengths behind Euchen Glen at Sandown in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes last time in a mad  (seriously, watch it) prep for this. Today is his big day and, if Sir Michael has it right, he might get into the frame especially if granted the easy lead he sought but did not get at Sandown. Colin Keane is a very interesting jockey booking, though may be Juddmonte's retained rider in Ireland (I probably should know that, apols).

Desert Encounter completes the seven and is a great globe-trotting money-spinner. the now nine-year-old gelding has never won above Group 3 level in Britain and yet has amassed £1.1m in total prize money. Well played! He's been second a fair bit in the past year but he won't be second here. Nor first. Wish I owned ten per cent of him: the days they've had around the world. Lovely stuff.

The pace map, based on UK and Irish form only, looks thus:

Prince Of Wales's Stakes tips

A few imponderables in what could be a cracker. If LOVE is on her A game, she ought to win. She's top on ratings after her sex allowance is accounted for and, unless the three-year-old fillies were a rotten lot last year - not impossible - she could be a fine sight. But she's been off a good while and this is deep. Lord North is well suited to the matter at hand though I'm not completely convinced of his credentials; similar comments apply to Armory except that I'm not at all convinced of his credentials (cue easy win).

I suspect Audarya will have her days later in the year, I don't like My Oberon though expect the trip will eke a little more, and Desert Encounter has no secrets from any of us. That leaves Sangarius as a bet without the first two if you can find it. At time of writing one firm is 22/1 without Lord North, and I'd take anything 8/1 and up without LN and Love, especially if someone offers each way 1/4 1-2.

**

5.00 Royal Hunt Cup (1m, Class 2 handicap, 3yo+)

The mother of all head scratchers is the Royal Hunt Cup, a straight mile handicap with thirty runners, and three reserves in case any of the main field try to escape and make life easier for punters! Trends time...

Horses priced above 20/1 are 5/402 in the last 24 years (thanks to horseracebase.com) and -£261 to a £1 level stake. I'll go with the 20/1 or shorter group, who are 19/292 (-£38, so still some work to do. Duh!)

No horse has shouldered more than 9-05 to victory during that time. That's numbers saddle cloth numbers 1 to 5 semi-arbitrarily excluded.

The draw is seemingly against the lowest numbers though I don't have data to bear that out. However, perception is reality and if trainers and jockeys decide low is unfavoured they're likely to race middle to high. Self-fulfilling prophecy thereafter for low, forfeiting ground.

Indeed, in 16+ runner handicaps over a mile on good or quicker, either flank has been beneficial. More material by far is that midfield and held up horses have significantly out-performed those presented more forwardly.

So I want a late runner.

Ignoring those already eliminated, the pace map looks a little like this:

The favourite currently is Finest Sound, a Varian/Atzeni entry and respected very much as a consequence. Stall nine is fine and his form - notably when second in the straight mile Britannia last year (soft) - looks progressive and relevant. There isn't a ton of pace on quick ground, so perhaps a prominent to midfield run style will give his rider options depending on how fast they go in front of him. Obvious player.

But the one I'm most interested in is Irish Admiral. Trap six might put a few off but it shouldn't; so too might a fifth place finish last time, that too is a red herring: the Epsom handicap he contested then was a muddling affair (first three home 12/1, 12/1, 20/1) where the speed held sway, the winner going gate to wire. Unless Maydanny gets a total freebie - possible - this should play to later runners and Irish Admiral protected his mark in failing to land a blow on the Downs. This will be just his sixth lifetime run so there is sure to be more to come.

The Hambleton Handicap at York has been a good pointer to the Hunt Cup historically, and a few from there appear here. They include the very unlucky Brunch, whose second places this season have been in two of the North's most prestigious mile handicaps, the Hambleton and the Lincoln. Up three pounds for a neck defeat last time doesn't help, but this strong travelling hold up type has everything in his favour for another 'in the mix' effort.

Of those in behind, What's The Story (too much weight?) and Ouzo (not good enough?) are overlooked but Matthew Flinders enters calculations. He wasn't persisted with when his York chance had gone and remains on the same mark. Drawn bang in the middle, he'll be looking for gaps from the two pole; Oisin Murphy is better than most at threading the needle in these types of race.

The Irish don't run too many in the Royal Hunt Cup but they're two from seven in the last five years. They have three entered this year: Pepperoni Pete and Bowerman look poorly handicapped but Lafayette is interesting for Noel Meade. Consistent in big field mile handicaps on soft ground he won his maiden on good to firm and has been in the frame in eight of ten starts following his debut.

Royal Hunt Cup tips

Wide open. Obviously. Lots of bookies offering place concessions which is a solid alternative to splitting stakes win only in a race like this. I'll take a small win bet on Finest Sound as insurance and then try a few at bigger prices each way with many places. Irish Admiral at 12/1 and Lafayette at 20/1 are compelling in the latter scenario, as is 16/1 Brunch who will surely be within spitting distance of the first past the post. So many more to consider and that's why they're all big prices!

**

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

A lesser juvenile race, at least in the context of Royal Ascot juvenile races, and often a big priced winner - 100/1 Flashman's Papers anyone?

Those with two or fewer runs to date are the place to focus, and top four last time out. That leaves plenty but it eliminates some, which is a start!

In the last five years, Aidan O'Brien, Charlie Appleby and John Gosden have won this, with horses priced at 7/1, 12/1 and 20/1. Clearly they all stepped up on what they'd shown theretofore. Wesley Ward, meanwhile, won this twice between 2009 and 2014, but has gone 506000098 since then, all bar one returning 10/1 or shorter. Small samples, yes, but perhaps a reason for caution.

WW's Ruthin is favoured, the once-raced daughter of Ribchester a runaway trap to line victor at Keeneland. Like many Ward Royal Ascot entries, she is electric from the stalls and looks set to take the field along from her middle draw in 12. After that, I haven't really got much of a clue.

Horses exiting the National Stakes at Sandown, the Hillary Needler and Two Year Old Trophy at Beverley, and Epsom's Woodcote have been fair portents of good runs. That brings in Tipperary Sunset and, to a far lesser degree, Guilded, both from Beverley; Bond Chairman and Chipotle from Sandown; and Dusky Prince and Flaming Rib from Epsom.

Cutting to the chase, I'm quite interested in Tipperary Sunset who was game on the front and is now two from two. He's made all on softish turf both spins to date and this will be quicker ground and a quicker tempo; but he looks quite relaxed in his races so probably doesn't need the lead. The Two Year Old Trophy he won was run about six lengths faster than the Hillary Needler in which Guilded was second: she'll have to improve a ton to beat him.

But this is too hard for me.

Windsor Castle Stakes tips

I'll try Tipperary Sunset each way at 12/1 or so with extra places aforethought.

**

6.10 Kensington Palace Stakes (1m, Class 2 handicap, 4yo+)

A new handicap on the round course for older fillies and mares. Easy enough, eh? Sheesh.

There could be a lot of pace here and, on the round course, that should make for a strung out field and my guess is advantage midfielders.

Roger Varian has won three Royal Ascot handicaps in the last two years from ten runners. What is more remarkable is that eight of the ten have made the frame. With that in mind, the inside drawn midfield runner Waliyak gets a check. Closer inspection reveals that, although she is making her seasonal bow, she was second in the (straight mile) Sandringham last season and has run over ten furlongs with credit since. She's not appeared to be quite getting home in truly run mile and a quarter races, so if this is the fast pace I expect it to be it could set up for her. Surprising that she's as big as 16/1 for all that she might prefer a bit more juice in the turf.

Lights On and Dreamloper are closely matched on their straight mile 1-2 last time here: there was a short head between them that day, three lengths back to the rest. Both raced handily there, a repeat of which would give them first run on presumed fading leaders but may also leave them susceptible to a mid-pack closer. That said, Lights On's draw in 17 of 18 means Ryan Moore may be forced to ride for luck whereas Oisin Murphy sends Dreamloper from eight which gives him options.

The unpronounceable Dalanijujo is fairly wide but quickened up well at Yarmouth last time off quite fast early fractions. She'd been racing at ten furlongs previously and the drop back to a well-run mile obviously suited; this will be that and William Buick is a jockey positive on the round course.

Naturally, lots of others with prospects.

Kensington Palace Stakes tips

I think Waliyak is a heck of a price if she handles the ground. Roger Varian's recent Royal Ascot handicap record is unsustainably good but this mare has draw, run style, profile and a fine young rider in her corner. I've backed her at 16/1 which is widely available at time of writing. And I've also had a go at Dalanijujo (I don't have to be able to say it to bet her!) each way at the same price. If they don't go fast early, another will probably win. But I'm expecting this big field on the round course will be a fun, but potentially frustrating, wagering watch.

**

And that's how Day 2 looks from this corner. Sam is taking over for our Thursday (Day 3) preview, and I'm back on Friday. As ever, it's every person for themselves on Saturday.

Good luck

Matt

Royal Ascot 2021: Day 1 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2021: Day 1 Preview, Tips

More normal than the 2020 edition, but still not quite normal: that's the best way to view Royal Ascot 2021, a mid- to post-pandemic shot in the arm for British racing and its legion fans. Although no more than 12,000 of those supporters will be able to attend each day, the rest of us will be well served on the box courtesy of ITV and AtTheRaces.

The new normal for Royal Ascot is a quintet of seven race cards, thus 30 becomes 35 through the week. Mostly these additions are handicaps, some of which we saw last year and very few of which ought to meaningfully dilute the quality on show.

As an over-arching principle with Royal Ascot, we are trying to project forwards: most of the runners will have not yet reached the ceiling of their ability and gauging who might progress the most - as well as quantifying what has already been achieved on the basis of scant formbook evidence - is the order of the week. In other words, it's tricky old stuff.

Brevity has not historically been my strong point when previewing big meetings but I shall attempt to keep these daily (Tuesday to Friday, help yourself on Saturday) outlines to 4000 words if possible. Best get to it then...

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

A return to the traditional start time and a reinstatement of the traditional curtain-raiser, the Queen Anne Stakes, a straight track mile Group 1 that has produced a couple of surprise results recently but is normally a procession of sorts for a well-fancied thoroughbred.

Accidental Agent in 2018 and, to a lesser extent, Lord Glitters in 2019 were hard to come by - for me at least; either side, though, were 14 victors sent off 15/2 or shorter stretching back to 2005's Royal Ascot at York.

It looks chalky again this time around, as the magnificent miler Palace Pier heads the lists. The four-year-old son of Kingman has won seven of his eight career starts, the last five of which at this trip, and on a range of going from all weather to soft to good/firm. Most of his top class efforts have been with some ease in the ground, a point which is one of only a couple of slight niggles in a very strong overall profile.

The other is Ascot's straight mile. True, Palace Pier won on a stiff straight mile at Newcastle, but that was in a 0-100 handicap. And he beat a high class field in the Prix Jacques Le Marois on Deauville's slightly easier straight piste where he benefited from a very well judged ride from Frankie. Sectionals provided by McLloyd reveal he slowed markedly in the final furlong there, but less so than his rivals. And he was beaten up the Ascot straight mile in the QEII on Champions Day on very soft ground.

On ratings, he's five pounds clear of his nearest rival, Order Of Australia. That one recorded his career top in the Breeders' Cup Mile, around Keeneland's tight inner oval and when sent off at 40/1. It was rattling fast there, which it might be here, but this is a straight mile and OOA doesn't have another piece of form within half a stone of that BC Mile effort.

Lope Y Fernandez is eight pounds inferior to the Pier on his best: on my book he's probably a seven furlong Group 2 horse. This testing mile, which I believe rides more like nine furlongs, should be beyond his stamina range.

Because of the tightness of the favourite and vincibility of his closest market rivals, it does look an each way, and especially a 'without the favourite' sort of race. In the latter context, I offer Lord Glitters. Winner in 2019 having been second in 2018, the passage of time is against him a touch but he was a Group 1 winner in Dubai as recently as March. Never nearer than his final position of fourth on domestic seasonal debut in the G1 Lockinge, he'll have been primed for this (as will most of the rest, in truth) and 8/1 without Palace Pier looks a bet.

Queen Anne Stakes tips

For all that I've tried to make a case against PALACE PIER, he looks very hard to beat. And I expect he'll win. This is a great 'without the favourite' race because I'm not sold on the virtue of either of the O'Brien entries and it's 20/1 bar the aforementioned trio in the main market. In that context, Lord Glitters looks a very credible each way without the fav bet at 8/1.

**

3.05 Coventry Stakes (6f, Group 2, 2yo)

This is a race that perfectly epitomises the guesswork required around a sizable field of nascent racers. It, like most Royal Ascot contests, doesn't especially play to my profiling strengths, though there are always 'ins' one way or another.

The market is headed by Wesley Ward's US raider, Kaufymaker. I can't find a tape of her race but it must be significant that WW pitches her in against the colts rather than going Albany or Queen Mary. There are some youtube videos of her working at Keeneland, and she is a typically big Ward juvenile: she won't be fazed by the colts. Whether she's good enough, who knows? Trainer pointers suggest she's good and Ward is quoted as saying she has a very long stride - which can be seen in the video. Ascot's straight six will test her stamina also, a test that all of her handler's juveniles have so far failed at Ascot. The table below shows two-year-old Wesley wunners (sorry) by wace (really sorry) distance. Wascal wabbit.

It's not a massive sample by any manner of means but it is pretty one-sided as far as it goes. It's enough for me to look elsewhere. But where exactly?

The ratings guys and gals are all over Ebro River, the quirky but talented slow-starter and fast-finisher. He rocketed by his field in the five furlong National Stakes at Sandown last time, that Listed contest run on soft ground. But he's a stressy horse so, while I think he can get the extra eighth I worry his temperament might prove his undoing. Loads of ability.

Gisburn is another to consider having waltzed more than six lengths clear of his Newbury novice field last time. That form may be only okay in behind but he could have hardly been more impressive.

The problem with Ebro River and Gisburn, and also with Irish raiders Masseto and The Acropolis, is that their form to date has been achieved on a soft surface. That, naturally, does not mean they cannot perform as well on a fast track, nor even that they won't improve for it; but it does mean we're in the dark about that element of the conundrum. Angel Bleu is another who fits this category.

Two who are unbeaten in one, both representing the Gosdens, are Dhabab and Tolstoy. The former, a £200,000 breeze up purchase in late April, repaid a sliver of his purchase price on the first day of this month when surging two lengths clear in a Leicester novice, finishing off well. He's sure to improve again - as are most of his rivals - and a straight six clearly holds no terrors.

Tolstoy, by Kingman out of a Frankel mare, and a home bred colt for Sir Robert Ogden, was less eye-catching in getting up late at Yarmouth. But that was a very steadily run contest where he overcame greenness and earned a huge sectional upgrade from us. Gosden runners typically improve a chunk from first to second start and debut winners are normally worth following throughout their careers; as such, this pair are interesting.

Coventry Stakes tips

Very hard. Kaufymaker has to defy Wesley's historical tendency towards five-furlong winners, and beat the colts in the process. Most of the rest of the top of the market are unproven on very fast turf, which makes it speculator territory for me. 17/2 Dhabab has achieved a little more than 12/1 stable mate Tolstoy, but he will have been well tuned by Mocklershill ahead of his mid-April breeze and so may have slightly less progression than his colleague. They are both playable.

**

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

Always a brilliant race to watch, the King's Stand is a fast five contested by the best speedsters in Britain, and some of the best from further afield. There is, happily, a little more form with which to work this time.

Battaash stands above his rivals on ratings, and is the reigning champ, unbeaten in three in 2020. But he comes here off a fracture injury which required an operation and a pin in a joint. Again, we're into the unknown in terms of how that will affect him especially on very fast ground. If he's the same model as last year he'll very likely win, and after timers may be crowing about getting close to 2/1 about such an obviously brilliant sprinter.

But it's quite a big if for me, especially with a progressive three-year-old in the line up who could have more to offer: something she will need if the jolly's A game is on display. Cue Winter Power, the apple of Tim Easterby's eye and a winner of five of her eight turf starts though not yet above Group 3 level. She was a huge improver as a juvenile, stepping from a mark of 76 on handicap debut (where she won by five lengths on good to firm) to her current 114 official peg. That leaves her nine pounds to find with the favourite but joint third top against the rest of the field. As I say, if Battaash is himself he probably wins; if not, it's up for grabs.

The other two obvious alternatives are Oxted and Extravagant Kid. Oxted enjoyed an annus mirabilis last year and gave trainer Roger Teal a dream time of things. But the five-year-old has not quite been at the same level thus far in 2021. He has run well on his two UK starts this term when placed in minor Group races at Newmarket and York but it might be Newmarket, his favourite stamping ground, in July when we see the best of him.

Brendan Walsh, an Irishman training in America, brings his globetrotting star, Extravagant Kid, a winner of the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night in March. As an eight-year-old veteran of fifty - count 'em! - races, he's recently been a regular bridesmaid having run second in five of his seven starts since September last year. The exceptions were when fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint behind Glass Slippers, and that Meydan G1. Acklam Express, himself a fast horse but not considered a Group 1 sprinter hitherto, was just three-quarters of a length back in third on World Cup night and that, for me, anchors the form a touch. Their prices are 10/1 and 33/1 and I leave it to you to discern where, if anywhere, the value lies.

Liberty Beach is a bit of a heart-breaker, usually running well but in defeat. That was the case when she was third to Battaash in this last year, and when fourth in the Albany Stakes the year before. We're then into the realms of horses with a stone and more to find with an on-song favourite. That's a bridge too far.

There looks to be a ton of speed in the field, which is not hugely surprising but could set things up for a later runner.

King's Stand Stakes Tips

If the Battaash of last year shows up, he will win. But there are reasons to believe he may not, the key one being that injury and subsequent convalescence. But it's also worth remembering that his prior Ascot record, when crowds were in situ, was unconvincing. Running up to Blue Point twice was hardly poor form but it was good form in defeat. 7/4 doesn't quite accommodate those reservations in my view.

This might be the time for Winter Power to bloom into a Group 1 sprinter for all that she has a bit to find in order to do that. This will be only her second start as a three-year-old. Or perhaps Oxted will show he can win Group races away from HQ. He was only a length behind Glen Shiel on soft ground in the G1 British Champions' Sprint in October and, if returning to his best, he will be bang there. Extravagant Kid is normally on the premises and there are no clear reasons why that will not again be the case.

A no bet race for me because of the if's and but's about the jolly and very few plausible rivals at the top of the market; and most of the rest miles out of their ground in known ability terms.

**

4.20 St James's Palace Stakes (1m, Group 1, 3yo)

To the round course for this mile Group 1 and a traditional crossing of swords between the major Guineas protagonists. And it's a wide open contest featuring the English Guineas winner Poetic Flare against a raft of unexposed rivals many of which avoided the early Classics. Indeed, Poetic Flare incredibly ran in all three of the English, French and Irish 2000 Guineas, running 162 respectively!

He got no luck in the run in France behind St Mark's Basilica, who himself sidestepped this in favour of the Prix du Jockey Club (which he won), and was only beaten a chin in the Irish version - to his stable mate, Mac Swiney. That's very solid form indeed whichever way you cut it. The negatives? Four runs in the space of six and a bit weeks, and a fifth run since 11th April; and the phalanx of upwardly mobile rivals from major yards. It is nearly four weeks since his most recent race so perhaps he's ready to go again; he's certainly able enough.

What of the remainder? Many chances.

First on the list is the Gosdens' Mostahdaf, unraced at two and unbeaten at three. That trio comprised a Newcastle novice, a Kempton conditions race and most recently the Listed Heron Stakes at Sandown. Clearly that form is a beat and three-quarters behind PF, but it is interesting to note that Gosden senior pivoted from Heron to St James's Palace with the 2018 winner Without Parole and the 2019 second, King Of Comedy. A front runner drawn stall 1, but with three Ballydoyle entries in 2, 3 and 4, he may be tactically compromised but will get first run if good enough.

Mostahdaf has so far run only on slow surfaces - standard to slow both AW starts and soft at Sandown - so the terra firmer has to be taken on trust. The trainer's modus operandi is fully taken on trust.

Battleground is in here too. The product of a union between War Front and Found was sent off favourite in the Guineas but trailed home a too-bad-to-be-true last-but-one (ah, hyphens). He'll strip fitter and can be expected to get a lot closer than the last day to Poetic Flare. It's worth noting he won the Chesham last season at the Royal meeting.

Godolphin are represented by Highland Avenue and La Barrosa, perhaps principally the former. That first named has form tied in closely with Mostahdaf, not least when running to within a half length of the Gosden colt at Sandown. He's previously won the Listed Feilden Stakes over a furlong further and on ground a step quicker than the Heron, so has fewer questions to answer for all that his form is a crotchet below his last day conqueror. He'll stay well if it's strongly run.

La Barrosa looked a colt to follow when edged out by a stablemate in the Craven but fluffed his lines having travelled strongly in the Irish 2000. It's possible he didn't handle the very soft ground there - all previous efforts were on good or faster, including a 7f Ascot debut score - and, if so, he might come into the reckoning. But he has to improve a fair chunk on form as well. Not out of the question.

Lucky Vega was a talented - Group 1 winning and placing - juvenile last term, and has run 34 in the English and Irish 2000 Guineas so far this campaign. His wide draw feels like it should be a negative but historically has not been as can be seen below.

A truly run race where he can tack across and finish well might be just what jockey Shane Foley and trainer Jessica Harrington are after.

The one horse to finish behind Battleground at Newmarket was Thunder Moon, previously third to St Mark's Basilica in the Dewhurst on his final two-year-old run. That form puts him in with a squeak at a playable price.

Wembley was the meat in the St Mark-Thunder Moon Dewhurst sandwich but he's clunked twice since and is running out of excuses.

And still there are more, such as 2000 Guineas fifth, Chindit, and facile handicap scorer Naamoos amongst others.

St James's Palace Stakes tips

It's another fascinating contest. Clear form pick is 4/1 Poetic Flare, but they will be queuing up to take him down. In what might be a fast run affair, the likes of 15/2 Lucky Vega and 10/1 Thunder Moon are interesting for different reasons. But I'm keeping my powder largely dry, small bits on the above aside.

**

5.00 Ascot Stakes (2m4f, Class 2 handicap, 4yo+)

The first handicap of the week is the two and a half mile Ascot Stakes for older horses. Willie Mullins and Ryan Moore are normally the team, the duo combining six times for three wins and two further places. M C Muldoon is the one this time, not sighted on the flat since October 2018, but in decent form over hurdles this spring.

The fact that Moore will likely have had the pick of the Mullins trio and has opted for this guy is a big clue. The rest is, as with others up the page, taken on trust.

The Irish are responsible for the next two in the betting, both trained by Mullins': Cape Gentleman for Emmet and Rayapour for Willie. The latter is a French import whose form was all on a softer surface. On his first start for Closutton he was sent off 4/6 for a maiden hurdle and, after a two year break, faded into third late on.

Cape Gentleman is more obvious: A Grade 2 hurdle winner at Kempton two back, he'd previously bolted up in the Irish Cesarewitch on soft ground. Quicker is again a reservation.

Royal Illusion is the third Willie Mullins entry: he looks a touch more exposed.

At each way prices, Rochester House ran better than his finishing position in the Chester Cup last time (horror draw) and was fifth in this last year as well as second in the Goodwood Handicap over 2m5f. And Just Hubert won that latter race, is only four pounds higher now, and handles fast ground. Last year's winner, Coeur De Lion, was fifth and sixth in the two previous renewals so clearly handles conditions though he's crept up in the weights a little.

Lots more with chances, natch.

Ascot Stakes tips

Very open and I'll probably be annoyed that Willie Mullins wins it with a horse with impenetrable or no relevant form. Annoyed mainly because I'll have backed something else. My something elses will primarily be 10/1 Cape Gentleman and I'll roll each way with 18/1 Rochester House with a few extra places (seven with Sky, 20/1 five places elsewhere).

**

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

Still two to go in the new expanded format and Tuesday's penultimate is the Wolferton. The top three in the betting are a combined 7 from 60 over the past 20 years which encourages the quest for a longer price. John Gosden has the best record with four winners from a dozen runners since 2009.

With his son he saddles Forest Of Dean, winner of a valuable York handicap and the valuable Winter Derby at Lingfield in his past six runs. Fast ground and ten furlongs is optimal for this chap; the appointment of Frankie Dettori for the first time since the York score is hardly a negative. Conditions look ideal for a big effort from stall 1 with my only niggle being getting locked up in traffic just behind the leaders.

Forest Of Dean has gone toe to toe with Felix in three of his last four starts, and will do so again here. There may be little between them once more, though I fancy the quick turf might play to Team Gosden over Team Botti.

At the top of the lists is Patrick Sarsfield, second in a similar race at the Curragh not quite a fortnight ago. The Joseph O'Brien runner will be bidding to break his trainer's 27 runner winless streak at the Royal meeting; it's clearly a matter of when not if but with no seconds and only a brace of bronzes from his yard so far, I'll sit the shorties out as a general principle. He was a Group 3 winner last season and is entitled to progress from that seasonal debut so won't shock anyone by passing the jam stick in front.

The Sir Michael Stoute-trained Solid Stone looks another late maturing sort off that particular conveyor belt, his most recent effort in winning the Royal Windsor Stakes (Listed) a clear peak. That puts him level with Patrick S on ratings but two back from the evergreen Euchen Glen. Now eight, Euchen won around four hundred thousand quid for connections and is a stalwart of the Jim Goldie team; he looked as good as ever when claiming the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown last month, but might have been a smidge flattered by the mental tempo of, unbelievably, a four-runner race! He's a strong stayer - has won over two miles - so the harder they go the better for him.

Blue Cup put it all together for the first time in a while when dancing to victory in an Epsom handicap last time. A buzzy type who has often fretted his race away before the start, the first time hood might just be the key to him stepping forward now. His later running style and inside draw suggest a potentially difficult trip, however.

Wolferton Stakes tips

Very open and Joseph's jolly just might do it. But history says taking a flyer at a bit more of a price is often the way to go, so I'll chance 15/2 Forest Of Dean each way. The trainer's record is peerless in this event, the horse has optimal conditions and young man Frankie steering. That's plenty of yesses in a race full of maybes.

**

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

Ten past six, ladies and gentlemen. Ouch. The Copper Horse is back, and older stayers will rejoice; or at least their owners and trainers will.

It's a staying handicap so Willie Mullins is in the mix. This time he relies solely on Saldier and naturally called Ryan to ride. They say you should add around 40 pounds to a flat mark to work out the approximate hurdle rating. Well, working back from a timber-topping figure of 155 or so gives 115, which makes 103 look on the feasible side..! He was a Grade 1 winner in his prime and bolted up in an egg and spoon job on his first flat run since contesting Pattern contests in France in 2017.

The wheel has revolved once or twice since then but there were at least some embers still smouldering in his belly at Listowel nine days ago, which would have been a tonic to all concerned following a distinctly lacklustre top table campaign over hurdles last winter. He probably just wins, doesn't he?

**

Good luck with your opening day wagers. If you like another, or some others, feel free to leave a comment below. And thanks, as always, for reading.

Matt

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