We look forward to another ultra-competitive handicap this weekend, as Ascot plays host to the Victoria Cup.
A maximum field of 29 are expected to go to post for this valuable cavalry charge. The race has favoured four-year-olds in recent times, with six victories in the last 10. Five-year-olds also have a decent record, but it’s rare that any above this age strike gold. Weight carrying is often an issue in such handicaps, and this race is no different. Only two from the last 10 renewals has carried more than nine stone to victory. Of the first six home in last year’s race, all bar Zhui Feng carried less (he was right on the nine-stone mark).
Keyser Soze looks likely to start favourite. Trained in Newmarket by Richard Spencer, this four-year-old ran a cracker on his seasonal return at Newbury, when third in a similarly competitive 22-runner handicap. Slow out the gate that day, he found himself stuck at the back of the field for much of the race. He gradually carved his way through the pack and looked sure to win when bursting to the front less than a furlong from home. Though chinned late on, it’s hard to believe that he would not have won had he not had such a tardy start. It’s a concern that his only visit to Ascot was disappointing, when trailing home in last year’s Britannia Stakes. He also sits on that nine-stone threshold. Nevertheless, that Newbury run was eye-catching, and this fella looks progressive.
The six-year-old, Louie De Palma, is also towards the top of the market, despite having not been sighted on racecourse for almost four years. Off since a decent juvenile campaign, it would be an astounding piece of training should Clive Cox deliver him victorious in such a competitive event. Based on that two-year-old form, his handicap mark may well be generous, but backing this fella requires a monumental leap of faith from the punter.
The David Barron-trained Kynren has the right sort of profile for this. A progressive looking four-year-old, his seasonal return at Doncaster in the Spring Mile Handicap was full of promise. Third that day, despite a poor draw, he’d battled on bravely having been isolated on the stands-rail for the first half of the race. He’s set to carry 8-11, and though his pedigree suggests he may favour softer ground, he has proved his ability to handle a quicker surface. He could go close.
Raising Sand is older than ideal at six, but his record at Ascot suggests another bold bid is likely. He’s twice a winner at the track and was placed third and fourth in his other pair of visits. He clearly performs well in these big-field events and his handicap mark (just 2lbs higher than last time) suggests he’ll go close again. He lacks a prep-run, which has proved a slight negative for this race. Nevertheless, he looks a serious contender.
Firmament would be another trend buster, but the David O’Meara-trained six-year-old is starting to look very well handicapped, and never disappoints at Ascot. He ran well off a mark of 109 throughout last year and is now down to 102. I can’t see this fella finishing out of the frame, yet he’s currently a 28/1 shot. He’s vulnerable to a young progressive sort, further down the handicap, but I’m convinced he’ll be in the shake-up.
Keyser Soze and Kynren fit the profile and look sure to go close. But I’ll be backing a pair each-way in the hope that they can become trend busters. The well-handicapped Firmament is the main bet. He loves the track, and in O’Meara and Tudhope, we have a potent combination for this type of race. I’ll also throw a few quid at Raising Sand, who also loves Ascot and remains on a fair handicap mark. Both are six-year-olds, hence vulnerable to a younger improver, but I’m convinced both will be in the mix.
Best of luck to those having a punt.