Ascot will again be the focus of attention this weekend with the feature event the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
With a rich history and a stunning roll of honour, the race is one of the highlights of the Flat racing season. The likes of Nijinsky, Shergar, Dancing Brave and Montjeu are just a few of the giants to have claimed the prestigious prize. It’s an event that will be covered in depth by Geegeez and others during the week, but for now I wish to focus on one of the supporting cast; a race that is sure to attract plenty of familiar names.
Saturday’s International Stakes over seven furlongs is the latest in the Heritage Handicap series. From the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster in April, through to the Cesarewitch at Newmarket in October, these races throw together recognised equine stalwarts in ultra-competitive handicaps for the benefit of racefans and punters alike.
The prizes are valuable and much sought after by trainers and connections alike, with many contenders having become hugely popular with those that follow this great sport. Saturday’s race is no different, with a sprinkling of the ‘usual suspects’ that will have punters launching into a weekend enhancing each-way flutter.
Glen Moss is one such contender, who remains as competitive as ever. The seven-year-old is now trained by Michael Dods (trainer of Mecca’s Angel) in County Durham, having spent time with a number of handlers over the years. Dods appears to have rejuvenated the talented handicapper, who has had two third place finishes and a victory from his last three starts. He’s fast approaching 40 career outings, and was a close fourth in this very race back in 2013. He clearly has a liking for Ascot, having finished runner-up in the Victoria Cup in 2014.
Heaven’s Guest is another ever-present in these competitive events. Richard Fahey may well run him on Saturday, and should he take his chance there’ll be plenty of interest in the six-year-old who has won nine of his 41 career starts. He won this race last year, and came oh so close to winning his second Bunbury Cup at Newmarket a couple of weeks back. This popular gelding by Dark Angel has almost earned half a million in prize money, and is running as well as ever.
With 51 starts to his name, Balty Boys has been on the go since 2011. Trained by Brian Ellison since late 2013, the seven-year-old has been slightly disappointing so far this season, though his handicap has now dropped to a rather attractive mark. He came within a head of Heaven’s Guest in this race 12 months ago, off an 6lb higher mark. He was also a terrific fourth in last year’s Royal Hunt Cup, climbing to a handicap of 112 by the end of a successful campaign. At his best, this classy fella is a Group 3 winner, and there ought to more valuable prizes to be won in the coming months and years.
If Balty Boys can be called a classy sort, then the same can certainly be said of Jack Dexter, who may well run over seven furlongs for only the third time in his career. Good enough to finish a neck second in the Group 2 Temple Stakes last year, Jim Goldie’s seven-year-old is both an extremely talented and popular racehorse. With 43 starts to his name, he has been tried at the highest level in recent years, though stepped back into handicap company for his last two outings. He ran better than his finishing position suggested at Ascot in the Wokingham, having struggled to find racing room at a crucial stage.
Personally, I have a great fondness for these prestigious handicaps, though as a punter you can often end up cursing your misfortune as your selection runs into traffic problems, or is drawn on the ‘wrong side’. Such issues are part and parcel, and merely add to the conundrum of finding a likely winner. I fully expect ‘old friends’ to play a major role in the finish, and for now it’s simply a case of choosing the right one. If only it were that simple!