It's a big day of racing on both sides of the Emerald Sea, with the Irish Oaks at the Curragh providing a supper time dose of Group 1 quality. Before that, we've the Weatherbys Super Sprint from Newbury, and the Summer Hurdle and Plate at Market Rasen.
We start at Market Rasen, and the...
2.55 Summer Hurdle
A great little race, and generally one for the top of the market. Higher class horses, as denoted by those carrying eleven stone or more, have done better. Indeed, eight of the fifteen winners of this race carried eleven stone-plus, from just 69 runners (11.6%). Compare that with the seven from 143 runners who shouldered a lesser weight (4.9%).
Nine winners were rated 127 or higher, from 85 runners (10.6%).
Horses aged four to six have won twelve of the fifteen Summer Hurdles (80%) from 58% of the runners. They've also claimed 71% of the places.
That gives us a workable shortlist of just Purple Bay and Roman Flight.
Roman Flight is a very interesting candidate. An extended two miles and good ground has been the making of him, and has was third in this race last year. That was off 121, whereas he's now rated 137, due to a string of win and placed efforts. Since that bronze last year, Roman Flight has recorded four places and a win, all at this trip and all bar one on good ground. The other placing was on soft, so there'd be no worries about any easing in the ground.
He beat Purple Bay last time, and has been targeted at this race by trainer David Dennis. 14/1 looks good, though each way punters should note that with sixteen declared, a single absentee will knock us down to three places.
Purple Bay is also on the up and up, and trainer John Ferguson won this last year with the talented Sea Lord. This fellow, unlike ex-flat racer Sea Lord, came through bumpers. He was good enough to win on his debut, and then ran fifth and fourth in the two best British bumpers of the season, the Cheltenham and Aintree Champion Bumpers respectively.
Like so many of Ferguson's horses, good ground looks the key. Purple Bay's record on such ground reads 11222. That said, each of his three efforts on good to soft has been highly creditable (those two Champion bumper efforts, and a win), so as long as it wasn't soft, he should run his race.
He has looked a bit one-paced in the finish in his last three runs - all second places - but it's possible that he'll travel better off what should be a stronger gallop here and, if that's right, he'll go close again.
Both of the above pair like to be held up in their races, and there's a stack of pace in this afternoon's contest, headed up by Rolling Maul and Hawkhill. Plenty of the fancied runners - including Slim Pickens and Uriah Heep - want to mix it early too and, though it's probable that at least one of them will be reined back, late runners could have the best of this.
As 7/1 the field suggests, it's a wide open race, but I reckon Purple Bay and Roman Flight may again tough out the finish.
Two against the field: Purple Bay 16/1 general, Roman Flight 14/1 general
3.30 Summer Plate
The Summer Plate is a really good Listed handicap chase run over two and three-quarter miles. The headline stats include the following:
Six and seven year olds have claimed eight of the fifteen renewals (53%) from just 36% of the runners.
Those with more weight have struggled in numerical terms, with just four winners lugging 11-00+. The other eleven (61%) had 10-13 or less, and all were in the handicap proper, from 59% of the runners. But despite the seemingly lop-sided nature of those figures, they are broadly in line with expectations.
Peter Bowen has an excellent record in the race, with four winners and six more placed runners from his 26 contenders. He saddles two this time, Book'em Danno, and Lamboro Lad.
Book'em Danno is a good place to start. He has a very strong profile for the race... except for one thing: he likes to lead in his races. In a field of fifteen (each way punters know their fate from the outset!), that could be tricky, and his demand for good ground could be called into question given what's happening in Hackney as I write. (It's rather wet - understatement!!)
Still, all of his six wins have come at Market Rasen, and his last two starts have both been course and distance successes, so there are no fears on that score.
But but but... there is potentially a ton of pace on, with no fewer than five horses recording pace figures of 14 or more (implying they habitually front run) on the Geegeez Pace Analysis. And seven of the fifteen-strong field led or shared the lead in their last race! Yikes.
Although it cannot be accused of being an inspired selection, It's A Gimme, for AP, Jonjo and JP, looks to have a very strong claim. Coming here in fine form after a win in a novice chase three weeks ago, It's A Gimme's three novice chases have all worked out pretty well (see the 'Then What?' figures in the inline form on the Geegeez cards).
Rated 140 over hurdles, it already looks like he can surpass that now chasing and, with just three runs on the board and a mark of 132 for his first run in a handicap chase, he could be well named. He'll sit just behind the likely frantic early go, and also won't mind any slight easing in the going.
Bowen's other runner, Lamboro Lad, deserves a second look as well. He probably didn't stay the three and a quarter miles last time, which might have been on quick enough ground too. Back in trip and with the prospect of the word 'soft' appearing in the going description somewhere, Lamboro Lad is another who will sit just off the early gallop. He's older than most winners, and may not have the class for a contest such as this, but he looks better suited than many to conditions, and his trainer is the master of the Summer Plate.
Selection: It's A Gimme 9/2 general
Each way alternative: Lamboro Lad 20/1 general
3.50 Weatherby's Super Sprint
I'm guessing that the rain will have got into the ground and rendered it at least 'good', and possibly good to soft, by off time for this race. Clearly, that will suit some better than others in a field of 25.
Even though it normally attracts a field of twenty-plus juveniles, the Super Sprint has been kind to the top of the market. Nine of the sixteen winners since 1997 were priced 7/1 or shorter, testament to how much of the field is generally 'dead wood'.
It's a sales race, meaning runners have qualified by being sold 'at specified sales', and it's run over five furlongs. The entire field is open to improvement, but a lot of them would have to improve two stone to win! All bar seven of the field have official ratings, and they put Tiggy Wiggy nine pounds clear of the next runner.
Tiggy Wiggy has had a fantastic season - and a very lucrative one for her owner - picking up £55,000 in winning three times and placing twice. The wins include the Listed National Stakes at Sandown, on soft ground; and the places include second in the Group 2 Queen Mary at Royal Ascot, on good to firm.
So, she's ground agnostic - might prefer a bit of cut, actually - and she's a pure five furlong speed ball. She does have to concede a few pounds to the rest, but that's because she's already achieved more than most of them will ever do. A plum middle draw is spot on, and she's going to be very hard to beat, especially if the rain gets into the ground.
Realtra is her main market rival, but she probably needs seven furlongs, not the six she's been running over recently, and let alone the five here. She'll likely enjoy ease in the ground, which is a positive, and she gets plenty of weight from Tiggy Wiggy, but she surely wants further.
I actually really like Tiggy Wiggy here, and have backed her. Not only does she have a very solid look in the context of the race, but I think there are question marks about most of her rivals in a field which is long on numbers and short on class.
A penny each way on Charlie's Star might not be the worst 100/1 bet ever struck, and a 100/1 shot did win this in 2005. That was trained by Richard Hannon Sr, as is Flyball, a 66/1 poke here. For those who like to take big chances for small money, they could go better than their prices suggest. But it's Tiggy Wiggy to get jiggy jiggy for me.
Selection: Tiggy Wiggy 9/2 general
Pair of miracle pokes: Flyball 66/1 BetVictor, Charlie's Star 100/1 Unibet
5.45 Irish Oaks
It's over to Ireland for the promised supper time treat. And if the Irish Derby was a damp squib, then this is good-looking meeting of Epsom form versus the best of the rest of the British and Irish, even in the absence of Oaks winner, Taghrooda.
The Oaks form is represented by four of the eleven starters: second placed Tarfasha, third placed Volume, and sixth and seventh Marvellous and Palace. The likelier pair to focus on are, as their finishing positions last time suggest, Tarfasha and Volume.
While neither was a match for Taghrooda on the day, both ran fine races, and there was only a neck between the pair at the line. It's somewhat curious to me, then, to discover that Volume is twice the price of Tarfasha. Both are rated 111, both act on the good or slightly softer, and both are trained by fine judges in good form.
Dermot Weld has won the Irish Oaks twice before, but not since Dance Design in 1996, and he has a decent chance of recording a third win in the race. But she's too short to be a bet, and Volume offers comfortably more value, even though she's had to travel to Ireland. The latter will likely be held together just behind the pace, which I'd expect one of Aiden O'Brien's five (yawn) runners to control.
If O'Brien is to win a fourth Irish Oaks, and a first since a quick-fire hat-trick between 2006 and 2008, then it could be with the potentially under-rated Montjeu filly, Bracelet. She was a revelation when stepped up fully half a mile to this trip last time, winning the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot. She'd previously shown she acts on a soft surface, and won there on good to firm, so there will be no fears with the ground however it manifests itself.
Although she disappointed in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, she has an otherwise progressive profile, and I have a sneaking suspicion she could just be the value amidst the burgeoning Ballydoyle battalion.
Closest to Bracelet in the Ribblesdale was Lustrous, herself stepping up from a mile to a mile and a half for the first time. She was a half length behind there, and yet is a 16/1 chance today. The market has under-valued her chance the last twice, but I'd be a bit concerned about the ground for this daughter of Champs Elysees, whose best form is all on quicker.
It's a trappy race, and not one in which I'll be having a bet. If I was going to wager, I'd take Volume as a value alternative to Tarfasha. The Oaks form looks really solid, and plenty of their rivals have 'good on their day' as taglines.
Tentative value selection: Volume 5/1 Betfred, Coral