The big handicap this weekend is the Challenge Cup at Ascot and with ‘just’ 18 runners set to go to post it may turn out to be an easier puzzle than the usual big field Ascot handicaps.
The ground is going to be a huge factor with somewhere in the region of 20-30mm of rain potentially falling on Friday and Saturday. It takes a lot of rainfall to make the straight course at Ascot heavy but it might not be far off that come race time on Saturday.
Before we look at each runner’s form and ability to handle underfoot conditions let’s first look at the draw and pace set up for the race.
All metrics point towards high being favoured over low, although it’s worth noting that there isn’t a huge difference in PRB (percentage of rivals beaten) across the board.
Looking just at handicaps run on soft or heavy, there is far less data but it seems to swing things back in favour of lower draws.
What’s particularly interesting here is the PRB figures. There isn’t much between middle and high here but the low draw PRB is 0.57 which is a huge leap from the middle to high PRB.
It’s worth noting that the reason there are only 18 runners here is the field sizes are limited at this meeting because half of the course is railed off to save the ground for Champions Day. This possibly renders much of the above draw data irrelevant.
Three of the last four renewals of this race have been run on soft ground and the draws of the first five finishers in those races are as follows:
2019 – 17, 9, 6, 5, 13
2018 – 17, 18, 15, 11, 16
2016 – 16, 8, 11, 10, 12
Now that’s a fairly small sample but it’s the most relevant draw data we have for this individual race. It seems significant that in those races eleven of the top fifteen finishers were drawn in double figure stalls and no runner from the lowest four stalls managed to finish in the top five at all.
It’s by no means certain that this trend will continue but it does seem as though a higher draw will be preferable to a lower draw at this meeting on soft.
Pace is not only important in telling us what race position the winner is most likely to come from, but where the pace is drawn can have an strong impact on a possible draw advantage.
There is a possible contested speed here with front runners drawn in stalls 5, 7 and 13. Every runner in the field should have speed to track so there certainly shouldn’t be a micro advantage based on where the pace is.
Ascot is generally thought of as a course for hold up horses but they’re not necessarily majorly advantaged at this trip on softer ground.
No run style has produced more wins or placed runners than being held up with cut in the ground but that’s from more runners. Prominent runners actually seem to offer the best value (IV 1.33) with front runners performing worst of all.
The Place % data is very similar across the board though so we should get a very fair track and the pace at which this race is run will likely determine where the winner comes from more than anything else. With three front runners in the field this could set up for something more patiently ridden.
Last year’s winner carries 4lbs more this time around. He ran poorly in his first two starts this season but benefitted from a wind op last time when a creditable 5th in the Ayr Gold Cup off this mark, over a trip short of his best. Three of his four wins have come on soft ground and he’s only been beaten by one runner in two course and distance runs (beat 40 rivals home in those two races) so everything looks in place for a big run and William Carver claims 5lbs. He’s drawn very low in stall 3 though.
Progressive 3yo who has won his last two starts comfortably, rising 17lbs in the process. The 2nd and 3rd from his last win have both come out and won since so he’s fully deserving of his latest 11lb rise and he is also proven in soft ground. This course and distance winner is entitled to run extremely well if tracking the pace from stall 12 although it’s worth noting his trainer Clive Cox was quoted as being glad the ground had dried a little last time out (on soft) so if it was to go heavy it might not be ideal.
A regular fixture in this race, he was below par last year but won this two years ago and was 3rd to smart pair Accidental Agent and Lord Glitters three years ago. He’ll be ideally suited by conditions here but it’s just a question of how well handicapped he is. He won here last year off a 4lb lower mark and was 1st home on the far side in the Royal Hunt Cup off a 1lb higher mark on his only start this season. He was 8th overall in that race and the first 4 home all won at least once since so that’s strong form considering his draw was so bad on that occasion. He’s fared better this time around in stall 11.
Saffie Osbourne is a very interesting jockey booking. She’ll be claiming 7lbs and has a 28% strike rate in the past fortnight. Her claim could definitely be the difference between a good run in defeat and victory.
Finally came good here in July after many near misses but that race worked out poorly with no horse from the first seven home winning since and he’s now 5lbs higher. He once again found next to nothing back here a month ago and he’s not one to completely rely upon.
One that might be overlooked here. He’s largely struggled for the past 12 months but there were definite signs of life back in handicap company last time out at Doncaster over a mile He was cruising 2f out, making up ground with ease, until he ran into the back of the leading group and lost his momentum. He finished well enough but the way he travelled and his finishing effort perhaps suggested he’d be best suited by this drop in trip. That run came on ground that was faster than ideal so he deserves to be marked up again. He’s won twice on soft and is down 2lbs so has a leading chance if the trip isn’t too sharp. Stable form not great though.
Has benefitted from being ridden more forward in his recent starts having often caught the eye from off the pace (including here). Should find conditions in his favour but doesn’t look that well handicapped anymore and may find dominating this field difficult.
Runner up in this last year off a 7lbs lower mark and although he’s been running well again this season he’s 3lbs worse off with Kynren ignoring jockey claims. He’s likely to run fairly well and a place isn’t out of the question but a win seems very unlikely.
Often the bridesmaid, he’s finished 2nd on his last four racecourse appearances. He’s up another 3lbs and although still competitively handicapped he has often seemed better on faster ground.
Best Of The Rest
Orbaan should enjoy the ground and isn’t badly handicapped but whether or not he wants 7f in this tough a race is open to debate.
Blown By Wind will pop up at a big price at some point and he’s probably at his best in testing ground but he’s often slowly away. If he breaks on terms he’s one to consider as an in-running back.
Young Fire is interesting back up in trip on this ground. He’s won two of his last three starts at 7f on soft ground but he possibly goes best at Haydock.
What If The Ground Turns Heavy?
Eight of these runners have never encountered heavy ground before and seven have run on it only once so form on very testing ground isn’t easy to find. Blown By Wind and Ropey Guest both have a 100% record of at least placing on heavy but both have only run once on it.
Instant Expert on Geegeez Gold is an excellent tool to get huge amounts of data for each runner and it can be just as enlightening to look at sires in Instant Expert, especially in extremes of going.
Garswood, sire of complete outsider Gabrial The Wire, has an excellent record in heavy ground as a sire as does Dubawi, who gave us Greenside. The sires of Kimifive, Hey Jonesy and Jack’s Point also produce plenty of mudlarks but that trio of runners may struggle to see 7f out on very deep ground.
Perhaps the most interesting runner here is River Nymph, who is the one who is potentially still a fair bit ahead of his mark despite going up plenty for his last two wins. If the ground is no worse than soft he looks sure to run very well.
King Ottakar is very tempting on this ground having caught the eye last time and he is certainly overpriced at 10/1 at the time of writing. It looks as though the drop to 7f should suit but it’s a risk, and the trainer form is worrying.
So slightly unoriginal but it may pay to stick with Kynren and Raising Sand. They’ve won this for the last two years between them and were both better than the bare form of their more recent runs. They may not be amazingly handicapped but both have talented claimers on board which could make all the difference. The draw is possibly a concern for Kynren so unless previous races tell us low is better than high then Raising Sand has to be the most solid each way selection at 7/1. Raising Sand has won here for the past four years and can hopefully make it five in a row.