BETTYS HOPE (left, Silvestre De Sousa) beats SHOW ME SHOW ME (centre) in The Weatherbys Super Sprint Stakes Newbury 20 Jul 2019 - Pic Steven Cargill / Racingfotos.com

Newbury Preview: King Can Conquer Mile Handicap

The classic generation dominate the live action on Saturday with five of the seven terrestrial races limited to 3yos only. Those contests are going to be much more useful as a reference going forward rather than a betting medium this weekend so I’m going to go outside of the live offerings with this weekend’s preview, concentrating on the 4.45pm at Newbury. This is a mile handicap for older horses which brings proceedings to a close and hopefully we can make it the lucky last.

As usual, all the data and info below is available through Geegeez Gold, you can click here to get your first 30 days of Gold for just £1.

Let’s get into it.

Draw

There are enough showers around in the lead up to racing to ensure the ground doesn’t dry out. In all probability these races will be run on good to soft ground so we’ll use data either side of that going.

The data points towards higher draws, towards the near side rail, being a disadvantage. The higher draws have an astonishingly poor win percentage (2.94%) and also draw percentage (14.71%) and most concerning is the PRB, which is generated using more data than any other metric, showing just 0.41 for high draws.

Low and middle draws are much more closely matched with PRB figures of 0.54 and 0.55 respectively. All metrics point towards middle being slightly better than low.

So if middle is good, and high is very bad, there must be a point where good starts turning to bad. To examine this we look at the individual stall data.

Stalls 7 and 8 both have an above average PRB yet no stall higher than 9 has a PRB of above 0.44. It seems strange that there should be such a huge drop off from one stall to another, after all they are right next to each other, but stalls 8 and 9 are not often next to each other…

I’ve looked at several bigger field races here and it seems in the majority there is a two stall width gap between stalls 8 and 9 where one set of starting stalls is connected to the other. In some races stall 7 is the cut off and in other races stall 9 is the cut off but this potentially explains why there is such a big difference – stall 9 is often the equivalent of stall 10 in terms of distance from stall 8.

They do sometimes race middle to stands’ side on softish ground here so there is no guarantee that higher isn’t the place to be but it certainly looks as though the middle is the safest place to be drawn. Friday’s meeting will tell us more about any potential draw bias on this sort of ground with four double figure field size races on the straight course.

Pace

A look at pace in similar conditions.

Not a huge amount of data here to go on and that is possibly why we see some contrasting data. The win and place percentage datasets both favour front runners but the next best option appears to be being held up in the rear. The each way PL appears to back up that front runners do best off with each way bets on the pace setters producing a level stakes profit of 2.1 and that metric suggests the worst value is found the further back in the field you go.

There is a less than 9% difference in place percentage between front runners and hold up performers which suggests this is a relatively fair track and any pace bias in the race is likely to be determined more by the individual pace setup in the race than by the course itself.

Pace Map

So here is the pace map for this race, taking into account just the previous two efforts from each runner.

Vintager is the likely front runner in this and the fact that he is drawn fairly high could potentially result in the other runners tracking over, negating any possible bias against those drawn higher. Kenzai Warrior may contest that pace from stall 5 but he seems just as happy tracking the pace. Path Of Thunder is another possible pace angle but he is another who is more likely to slot in behind the leader or leaders.

Now Overwrite may not be shown as a potential leader on the pace map but looking at the pace data instead of the pace map shows that he is very likely to want to lead.

He has led on three of his last four runs but was oddly held up on one occasion (which didn’t suit). That was two starts ago and the average of the last two runs in the pace map suggests that he’ll be more patiently ridden than is likely. The fact that on his latest start he went back to forcing tactics means it’s very likely he’ll contest the pace with Vintager and potentially set it up for the closers.

Up to 6 of these could be very patiently ridden so even in just a medium sized field, there could be some traffic problems in behind if the majority of them seek a run at similar parts of the race.

The Runners

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

Blue Mist

Often well fancied in big races, Blue Mist brings solid course form into this having finished runner up both time’s he’s visited Newbury. He won at Ascot last season off a 4lb lower mark on ground that was probably faster than ideal and he’s had a wind op over the winter. He’s not always the most resolute in a finish and he’s looked better over 6f/7f in the past two years so there have to be a few concerns here.

Another concern would be the form of Roger Charlton’s runners first time out this season. In the past 30 days his entire string has a PRB of 0.54 in handicaps whereas first time out (60+ days since last run) they have a PRB of just 0.39. Blue Mist looks massively opposable in this and it would be no surprise if he is a sizeable drifter as time progresses.

Path Of Thunder

Returning from a 91 break having had one race at Meydan in February. That was a creditable effort, 3rd to Easter World over 9f off this mark. Given he ran so well off a 240 day break the absence since shouldn’t be too much of a concern. The 1st, 2nd and 4th from that race in Meydan have all run well enough since in defeat to suggest that was fairly strong form.

His (smart) form as a 2yo came on fast surfaces and then he raced just once as a 3yo, finishing 10th in the Britannia Handicap on soft ground. It was no disgrace to be beaten 12.5 lengths that day given he was drawn lower than ideal but that run still suggested faster ground would suit. There is wiggle room still off this mark but he’ll want the ground to dry out. He might also be worth a try over 10f.

King Ottokar

An eyecatcher a couple of times last season and highly tried in the past. As a 3yo he got within 2.5 lengths of the now 114 rated Sangarius and a neck behind the now 113 rated Fox Champion. He was also less than 2 lengths behind Kick On who is now rated 108. These runs suggest he’s well handicapped off 97 and so do some of his efforts last season too.

He was a big eyecatcher when 5th behind Matthew Flinders at Doncaster on ground that would have been plenty fast enough. He cruised through the race, hit some traffic and then didn’t find as much as looked likely on the fast ground. He improved again next time at Ascot on dreadful ground when running extremely well from a dreadful draw in the Balmorral Stakes. The first five home were drawn 10 or lower and King Ottokar was drawn in 22 that day. What is quite remarkable is that those two runs came off marks of 102 and 100. Because he was beaten around 5 lengths in both races the handicapper was kind to drop him a total of 3lbs.

He’s been dropped another 2lbs thanks to a poor run in the Lincoln. He was badly drawn again that day, the ground was too fast and he was wearing first time cheekpieces. Whichever excuse you pick it’s an easily forgivable run and the fact that the visor is back on here suggests the headgear played a large part.

He’s run twice at Newbury before, getting his favoured soft ground on both occasions. He won first time up in a maiden beating Raise You (rated as high as 105) and then he beat Dashing Willoughby (rated as high as 112) on his next run here. The ground can’t really be soft enough for this guy and although the ground may be a little faster than ideal here on Saturday he’ll still be tough to beat if the ground is no faster than good to soft.

Fantasy Believer

A gradual improver for connections, Fantasy Believer ran a remarkable race at Kempton two starts ago. He lost at least 5 lengths at the start yet still ended up winning going away. That took his course and distance record to three from four. He’s yet to win on turf but certainly handles it, he was 2nd at Goodwood on soft ground over a furlong further and he was also runner up on his latest start at Windsor on good ground, breaking on terms this time.

A stronger gallop here will suit him much better, as will a little more cut in the ground, but he’s up another 2lbs here which makes life much more difficult. Capable of running into a place at least, especially with some doubts about the favourites in this.

Plantadream

Having his first run for 156 days, this relatively lightly raced 6yo still has more to offer after just twelve career starts. He’s almost certainly at his best at Lingfield, finishing runner up to two next time out winners on his last two runs there. He’s rated 4lbs higher on artificial surfaces than turf so in the context of this race it’s best to concentrate on his turf form.

All his turf runs have come on good or softer ground. He was well suited by Ascot when winning a conditions race there last September and then found life a little tougher off this mark on his next two starts, still running respectably. He was runner up to Hortzadar who is a fine benchmark and then 5th to Ouzo in a big field York handicap, running well against a slight pace bias. Based on those two runs he’s entitled to run well but probably in defeat.

Repertoire

Only three runs in this country for David Simcock, having made his yard debut in February. He was an easy winner at very short odds in novice company and then flopped when trying to follow that up at Newcastle, well beaten. He was subsequently given a two month break and ran much better over this trip at Ascot, finishing a close 3rd doing best of those held up.

He runs off the same mark here and will appreciate the likely strong early gallop. That run did come on good to firm ground though and he was well beaten on his final start in France on heavy. The ground won’t be that bad but it’s cause for concern. The offspring of Bated Breath perform similarly well in handicaps on ground ranging from good to firm to good to soft but there is a huge drop off in performance on ground that is any softer so he’ll be easier to put a line through if there is any more rain.

Ascension

This is one that definitely wants rain, as much as possible. His best runs have come with plenty of cut in the ground and given that fact he ran pretty well on faster ground when a poorly drawn 9th in the Lincoln. He finished last on a recent start at Chester on softer ground through, reportedly unsuited by the tight nature of the track.

He’s yet to fully prove himself at a mile, although he probably stays it okay. It’s interesting though that a trainer as powerful as Roger Varian has just a 8.51% win strike rate here in handicaps. There isn’t a ‘Group 1 track’ in the UK where he performs worse from a win perspective.

Overwrite

A winner three runs ago, he ran as if in form when held up at Ripon next time but put in a much poorer effort in the Suffolk Stakes last time out. These Mark Johnston horses don’t need a second invitation to bounce back from a bad run so he’s best judged on his form as a whole. One of the most interesting bits of form he has here is a 2nd place (courtesy of the stewards) over course and distance, on good to soft ground against Tempus who followed that up with another win. He’s now 4lbs lower but he did get the run of the race that day and might have to work header, earlier here.

He has a good record at this sort of trip with cut in the ground, is well handicapped and is entitled to run well but he seems so much better when getting an uncontested lead so he could only be backed with any form of confidence in running if he does get that.

Vintager

Another potential pace angle that could scupper Overwrite’s chances. He was in consistent and excellent form in 2018 on a range of going types culminating in a 4 length victory over a mile off a mark of 102 (rated 99 here). He managed to grab a French Group 3 and a German Group 2 the following year but was less consistent.

He then missed 430 days of racing and joined the Simon and Ed Crisford yard. He won in France first time out but has finished a comfortably beaten 4th in all three runs since. A visor made no difference on the latest two efforts (not retained here) and he hasn’t run to his current mark of 99 in any of those efforts. He got the run of the race last time out at Chelmsford too but was still disappointing. He's clearly not the force of old currently but he hasn’t raced on turf for new connections and it’s possible he’s a better horse on turf. It’s also highly possible he’s just not as good as he was but he’s not without a chance.

Accidental Agent

A Group 1 winner at Ascot just three years ago and he’s shown glimpses of that kind of form on occasions since whilst failing to get his head in front. He was just under 2 lengths ahead of King Ottokar at Salisbury in 2019 but has to give 10lbs to that rival here so is unlikely to confirm that form based solely on that run.

His best form has always come at Ascot (last two wins there) but he ran poorly there dropped to handicap company in September. He’s been given a wind op and a break since. Eve Johnson Houghton has a PRB of 0.44 with all handicap runners in the past 30 days but that drops to 0.32 when just looking at runners returning from 60+ days. That’s as big a worry as anything else. This may be a prep run for the Hunt Cup, for which he'd be an interesting contender.

Alternative Fact

In good form last season at a mile with cut in the ground, producing form figures of 312260. It could be argued that his form plateaued as he went up in the handicap (finished the season on a 7lbs higher mark) but that might not completely be the case. He wasn’t far behind the progressive Danyah off this mark at Haydock last season on ground that might have been a little livelier than ideal and that piece of form would give him a chance in this. When 6th at York on his next start he was running behind a slight pace bias and was only a neck behind Plantadream. Alternative Fact is 2lbs better off this time around. Then at Ascot, just like King Ottokar, he was drawn too high to make an impact, although King Ottokar was 5.5 lengths ahead of him that day.

The negatives appear to be his very best form has generally come at Haydock (did run well here over a trip too far previously though) and more worrying was his reappearance run where he was beaten 48 lengths at Chester. Needing the run doesn’t cause you to get beat that far and the stable’s runners have generally been going okay fresh so it does look as though something was seriously amiss that day and that was just eight days ago. Last season’s form gives him a chance but very difficult to back after his latest run.

Kenzai Warrior

Roger Teal’s runner was unbeaten as a 2yo (beat decent yard stick Ropey Guest) and ran relatively respectably in the 2000 Guineas on his first start as a 3yo, finishing a well enough beaten 9th after a slow start. He barely beat a rival home on his next three starts though, all over 9f or 10f including a handicap run here over two furlongs further off a 3lb higher mark. He’s been gelded since but the fact that connections are now reaching for cheekpieces suggests they aren’t convinced by him. He could bounce back to form after being gelded but only his 2yo form gives him a serious chance here.

The Verdict

I’m very keen to take on Blue Mist here, preferably before the market reacts by shortening the other serious contenders. Assuming good to soft or softer ground the shortlist for this race has to be King Ottokar, Fantasy Believer, Plantadream and Overwrite.

Path Of Thunder and Repertoire are opposed mainly because of the ground, Ascension, Vintager and Alternative Fact are possible winners who can’t really be backed because of their latest runs amongst other factors.

Overwrite is opposable based on his last run too but he’s more the sort to bounce back with conditions and handicap mark seemingly in his favour. Vintager’s recent front running efforts came with a now discarded visor on and it’s far from impossible he’ll accept a lead from Overwrite but Kenzai Warrior or Path Of Thunder are other possible pace angles so the percentage call is oppose Overwrite, for all he’s a great early price at double figure odds.

So that leaves King Ottokar, Fantasy Believer and Plantadream. The latter is definitely not badly handicapped but he doesn’t look brilliantly handicapped on turf either. Fantasy Believer is a little more interesting. He’s in excellent form and should have conditions in his favour plus he’ll get a better pace to aim at than last time. He’s been slowly away on more than one occasion though and he won’t be able to afford a slow start in this company.

KING OTTOKAR is the one who really stands out here. His course form is top notch, he reacted well to the visor last season running well when things didn’t go his way at all in two big handicaps and the recent rain is definitely in his favour (even more would be welcome!). The stable is in good form and the race will hopefully be run to suit. The big question mark, and probably the only question mark, is his seasonal reappearance. He was warm enough in the market so fitness probably wasn’t an issue but ground on the fast side of good and even more so the first time cheekpieces (which have quickly been dispensed with) could cause that kind of poor performance. Given his overall profile he’s probably a poor bet to place so my preference would be to go win only. If he replicates either of his last two runs in the visor he should be more than capable of winning this and looks a more than fair price at around 6/1 early.

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9 replies
  1. 10 Things You Didn't Know about Geegeez Racecards
  2. Kemal Tayib
    Kemal Tayib says:

    Huge fan of Sam BUT King O is now 7/4 with Bet 365 at 5.50pm Friday!! So that won’t be my bet! Overwrite is currently 14/1…..great ew bet surely!? Just had 10 ew.

    • samdarby
      samdarby says:

      Hey Kemal, yes price very different from when the article was written and I would not suggest anyone backs the horse at 7/4 – I certainly won’t be! It’s always more a preview piece than a tipping piece and the horses of more interest now are those who were on the ‘shortlist’. Overwrite definitely interesting each way, especially if you are getting 4 places.

  3. Nattyp12
    Nattyp12 says:

    Brilliant analysis as ever, but when was it ever 6’s? I must have missed that boat.

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      The price collapsed very quickly and doesn’t look value at all now, according to Sam. His suggestion is to think about exacta and trifecta plays.

    • samdarby
      samdarby says:

      I think everyone missed the boat to be honest – author included!

      I usually prefer to preview the live races as the markets are stronger and priced up with more bookies early but this race caught my eye this week. Unfortunately it looks like it caught a lot of people’s eyes.

      I’ll be hoping one of Fantasy Believer, Plantadream or Overwrite is very weak in the betting in which case I’ll be following the other two to finish behind King Ottokar. It can get a bit messy backing three others in behind so the market can hopefully help rule one of them out.

  4. Rick
    Rick says:

    The Lincoln is proving to be red hot form with huge runs from the beaten horses in top Handicap company.

    Grove Ferry, Kynren, River Nymph, Brunch, Danyah all run huge races since.

    King Ottokar was down the field.. but so was Ascension who is 14/1 in today’s race and he looks value with Atzeni in the plate.

    Ascension is only 4yo and surely has still time to improve

    • samdarby
      samdarby says:

      Good call, the Chester run put me off.

      Murphy must have read my draw analysis judging by his decision to go centre track when all the best efforts had come up the near side rail throughout the day!

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