Mixed bag today, as I correctly identified the winner from my the two I felt best suited for the race, but I'd got Time Has Wings as second best, whilst my preferred pick Iris Dancer was placed third, four lengths back. Hardly a disaster, of course : I'm always happy to get my 1-2 both in the frame.
Saturday is almost upon us and 'feature of the day' is the Trainer/Jockey combo report, whilst our free 'races of the day' are...
- 1.45 Haydock
- 2.45 Cartmel
- 3.30 Haydock
- 4.10 Punchestown
- 4.20 Beverley
- 6.15 Salisbury
And the standout race from above, is the John of Gaunt Stakes, a 9-runner Group 3 contest for 4yo+ horses over 7f on soft (gd to soft in places) ground. It's on your cards as the 3.30 Haydock and it's worth £34,026 to one of these...
As you'd expect from a field at this level, all have won relatively recently with River Nymph, Toro Strike and With Thanks all winning last time out, the first two of that trio are, however, stepping up in class today.
All bar Glorious Journey (98 days), Kinross (107 days) and With Thanks (209 days) have raced in the past six weeks and the SR ratings suggest a tight affair with seven runners rated 100 to 117.
Safe Voyage carries top weight here, but is joint best off at the weights with Glorious Journey and this 8 yr old gelding won a couple of Group 2 contests to close out his 2020 campaign. He was far from his best when last home of 11 in the Lockinge a fortnight ago, but he probably needed the run after 8 months off. This is a slightly easier task, he loves Haydock (11112 in 5 runs here), gets soft ground, gets the trip and has a 40% strike rate with today's jockey. Big player here if race ready.
Brad The Brief won a Listed race at Newmarket three starts ago, but hasn't made the step up to Group 3 in two efforts since going down by 5.5 lengths and 12 lengths in those runs either side of a 189-day break. And although he likes soft ground, this is still probably too tough for him based on the opposition.
Glorious Journey is joint best off at the weights and won a Group 2 race in the 2019 season. He won a Listed race and made the frame at Group 2 in his final two runs of last season and if returning at that same level would be a major player here. The fly in this particular ointment is his 98-day absence since running at King Abdulaziz, but he has a win and a place from two soft ground runs and his best work has been at this trip.
Kinross has finished sixth in a couple of races at Meydan this year, but his last UK action saw him win a Listed contest over a mile at Kempton back in November. He acts well enough on most surfaces, but can sometimes be lazy at the start of races getting away slowly.
Njord is a solid Class 2 (or Irish equivalent) handicapper, but hasn't really done much of note when stepped up in class. He was only third of seven in a Listed race at Naas last time out and he's already had a run before that outing to shake off the winter cobwebs. My feeling is that he's useful, but not up to the task here. Won't mind the ground, though.
River Nymph has won three of his last five and that form line looks impressive, but they were two Class 3 contests and a Class 2 either side of two other C2's where his finished well down the field. He's 2 from 3 on soft ground and 3 from 7 under today's jockey, but for me, he's just a Class 2/3 'capper, I'm afraid.
Toro Strike ended 2020 with two good runs at Goodwood, winning a Class 3 handicap and then a runner-up beaten by just a neck in a Group 3 race a month later. He returned to action at Thirsk six weeks ago to defy a 230-day absence by winning another Class 3 handicap by more than two lengths and although this is tougher, he could well step forward again here. He probably would prefer it quicker, though.
With Thanks is a progressive 4 yr old filly, never out of the first two home in five starts so far, winning three times. She hasn't raced since early November when she landed a 15-runner Group 3 contest at Naas by some five lengths and if she's ready first time out will be one to watch. My other slight concern other than the layoff is that the ground might not be soft enough for her.
Queen JoJo won at Gr3 and then placed at Gr2 in back to back races at York last summer, but has been 12th of 13 at Gr1 and 11th of 12 at Gr2 since then, the latest being just 17 days ago. She has won on soft, bt her best form is on quicker ground and I think she's more of a 6f runner.
Lots of past wins from this group (40 from 115), so we turn to Instant Expert to see if their wins are relevant to the task ahead...
And take from that what you will, but based on the volume of runs in similar contests, you can't fail to be impressed by Safe Voyage's numbers. Plenty of others have blocks of green next to them and Brad The Brief looks a little better than I painted him earlier!
Queen Jo Jo looks a No No on the going stats and to be fair, she looks the weakest so far.
In 8/9 runners contests over this course and distance on good to soft/soft ground, you can pretty much win/place from anywhere...
...but if pushed I'd want to be in that stalls 3 to 7 block for place purposes or 4 to 9 for the winners.
So, if you can bag a plum spot in maybe stalls 4 to 7, that's great, but Haydock also definitely has a pace bias and races like this you cannot be left behind and expect to win too often. The stats will back up my theory here (hopefully)...
And in a nutshell, it says the further forward you race, the better you do! However grabbing the middle stalls and leading isn't necessarily the best combination, it doesn't always work that way and here at Haydock, that has never been truer, because...
...yes, you want to lead, but you actually want to be doing from either end of the draw! And prominent high-drawn runners fare better than all except high drawn leaders, so horses like Kinross, Njord and Queen Jo Jo (all of whom I don't fancy) can grab the lead, that would be their best chance here. However to further dissuade me from backing any of that trio, the pace in the race looks to be in stalls 2 to 5...
...and when I overlay that onto the pace/draw heatmap...
...it looks good for Safe Voyage above all others. I'd expect him to attempt to set the pace and with his excellent record over curse and distance, he might be tough to stop.
Based on everything above and his record over 7/7.5f at Haydock, I'm finding it tough to steer away from Safe Voyage. Yes, he's the 4/1 favourite, but I think that's a fair price and not all big race favs get turned over, do they?
The dangers are likely to come from the likes of With Thanks, if race ready first time out, Toro Strike if getting the ground and maybe Glorious Journey if returning to last season's turf form. None are particularly attractively priced for an E/W punt, but if I was looking at this race fresh, they'd be the four main protagonists for me. Any of the four could win, I just feel Safe Voyage has fewest questions to answer.
Good luck whichever way you play this one, if you play it at all! Enjoy the weekend.