There are just eight races broadcast on Channel 4 in a two hour slot today, further symptoms of the 'more over better' approach that racing seems unable to decline currently.
Consequently, we need to choose our battles, as anyone expecting to go through the C4 card is surely precisely the kind of punter for whom the bookmaking paymasters yearn. Is it really just me, or is this endless conveyor belt of 'product' just rather, well, unappetizing? In fairness, I suppose there always used to be an ITV7, so maybe it's just me.
Anyway, in the midst of the volume, there are a couple of really good races, and you'll be able to tell which ones I believe them to be by the fact that in the following preview they're afforded more than a throwaway sentence...
The TV octet gets underway at 1.50 with the opener from Newmarket:
A seven furlong fillies' nursery, and all I can say is that it might be a nice placepot race. The shortest of the three winners so far has been 7/1, so good luck if you're taking a short price. The favourite, Mahsooba, is US bred and may struggle on the ground; but one worth a second glance at 16/1 is Persun. Mick Channon's relatively experienced juvie has finished second on soft over this course and distance, so we know conditions suit. He has something to find on the form book, but coping with the quag will be something plenty of her rivals fail to do.
A seven furlong juvenile Listed race with four runners. None have gone on soft ground before, so it's a voyage into the unknown all round. Trainer Roger Varian is worried about the juicy sod for Belardo, which rather puts a line through him for me. And Diaz looks complicated enough (first time hood might help). Charlie Appleby's Hawkesbury is a Shamardal colt who should act on the ground and carted up last time out. He'll probably win.
The grey's race, which kind of sums things up for me. At least, from a punting perspective, it helps. Plenty of these are running here only because it's a race for grey horses, and are either not suited by soft ground, or are not suited by six furlongs, or are not in form.
One who is, is and is, is Crew Cut, winner of the race last year. He won off a mark of 84 then and is now down to 78, and his recent record in Class 4 races is 1121. He must have a great chance of winning again.
If Baby Strange doesn't flunk the start - which he usually does, I'm afraid - then he might run into the frame, and the other pensioners, Light From Mars and Enderby Spirit, are also place possibles. But I reckon Crew Cut is better than a 13/2 chance.
The Geoffrey Freer Stakes is a Group 3 over a mile and almost three quarters, and with six of the eleven runners rated 110 or above, this is a very good renewal: almost certainly the best race of the day.
Finding a winner, though, may be tough, and I can see why Seal Of Approval is as short as 5/1. She's a Group 1 winner against her own sex, loves soft ground, and stays well. If that sounds great in the context of a Group 3, keep in mind it was a softish G1 she bagged on Champions Day, and she was a 16/1 shot there. Of the ten subsequent runners from the race, none has won yet, which lends credence to the notion that it may have been a Group 1 in name only. (Not that we have a burgeoning number of those, you understand. Ahem.)
5/1 is no value though she remains, marginally, the most likely winner; and one against her that could improve for the step up in trip is Cafe Society. He was an expensive acquisition with Australia and the Melbourne Cup in mind, and he's had a common theme about his recent races.
In the five defeats over a mile and a half or so in his last six starts, the in running comments read, "stayed on, far too much to do", "stayed on to snatch second", "kept on", "going on at finish", "kept on". He's by Motivator and may well get the extra furlong and a bit here, though the soft ground is another imponderable. He's also rated half a stone inferior to some of these, and a stone behind Red Cadeaux.
Still, if the ground doesn't inconvenience him, he can improve for the step up in trip, and a quote of 16/1 adequately accommodates the prospect of being completely wrong.
Red Cadeaux himself was second in this race last year, and reading between trainer Ed Dunlop's lines, he thinks he might be a little further forward this time. Moreover, the superstar globetrotter - winner of over four million quid in prize money - is not hindered by the Group 1 penalty this term either. He looks likely to run his race, and 6/1 is fair.
Mark Johnston takes advantage of the weight for age scale to put his Somewhat in here. That fellow is rated 110 but gets eight pounds from Seal Of Approval and eleven pounds from the boys. He is a far from certain stayer though, and I'd be unconvinced about the ground for him too.
The German raider, Girolamo, will love the ground. In fact, he came here specifically for the soft turf. This trip should be spot on for him - his best form is over a mile and a half, though he's run some fine 'not quite getting home' races over two miles - and I think he's another reasonable each way play.
It's a very good race to watch, but too hard to take a categorical punting view.
A six furlong sprint handicap, and the proven mudlarks are Penny Drops and Piazon. The former is favoured, at around 7/2, but she does a lot of placing and not much winning... so far in her eight race career, at least. One win, five seconds and two thirds tells its own story and, though she clearly can win, that's a comment which would have applied to a number of her previous assignments, including when beaten at odds on twice. Caveat emptor.
Piazon on the other hand is a robust place prospect against a flaky jolly. This lad has won three of his dozen starts, and been second thrice too. Soft ground form of 212 reads well, and the step up to six furlongs is something he might just about get away with (122 at six, but all on fairly easy tracks). Only three pounds higher than his last win - on soft ground - and with more to come, I think 9/1 with Coral is a decent each way play.
At a massive price, Ventura Mist has had tougher tasks than most of these in recent starts, and could show some of the old sparkle that saw her bag the Listed 2yo Trophy at Redcar last back end. She's a general 25/1 shot.
A seven furlong handicap and a thoroughly exposed level of form all round. Good good. The one to look to is Charlie Fellowes' Accession. The trainer is in fine form, with two winners from eight runners, and another three placed, in the past fortnight; and the horse is best suited to conditions.
A winner of one of his two soft ground starts, Accession has also run some fine races in defeat at seven furlongs, most notably when a close fourth in a big field Glorious Goodwood handicap a couple of weeks ago. With the trainer's team in slightly better form, and the pace shaping up well for him, I'd be hopeful of a big run from the son of Acclamation.
Brian Gubby doesn't have too many runners these days, but his Kinglami looks a fair alternative to the selection. His two runs on soft have yielded a win and a close fifth in the competitive huge field apprentice handicap on Champions Day, and he's dropped to a feasible mark.
That last comment also applies to Hughie Morrison's Pastoral Player. This lad was once rated 113, and with jockey allowance will race off 88 today. While there's a reason for that, he gets soft ground and a drop in class this afternoon, and it would be no surprise to see him bounce back. All that said, the stable could be in better form. He's definite placepot material with form figures of 9-6000 for those of you playing the 'pot at Newbers today.
The Great St Wilfrid Handicap, a Class 2 over six furlongs just on the soft side of good. Just the twenty of them line up, with pace looking to be mainly high. I wouldn't be categorical about the favoured side of the draw, however, and will take one from either side, and an old friend in the middle!
The high drawn hoss to catch my peeper is David Nicholls' Kimberella. He's in good form since joining Nicholls this season, and has loads of pace around him to carry him into the contest. Good ground will be no issue, and he is an obvious contender.
On the low side, Majestic Moon looks certain to lead, but uncertain to see it through; and Captain Ramius might just pick up the pieces in his stead. He's dropped down the weights a touch this term, and has bits of form here, as well as strong form on good and good to soft. He could give us a run for our money at 22/1 (five places, Skybet) if low strike a blow.
The middle missus is Spinatrix, a lassie whose nine runs at Ripon have all been in the first three. 123231122 is incredibly consistent, and that string includes 3rd in this race in 2012 and 2nd in this race last year. Can she complete the set? Possibly not, in truth, from an awkward draw; but nobody would begrudge her the win, and her chance may depend on which direction jockey Connor Beasley steers her from the gate.
There are, naturally, seventeen other nags with aspirations and those are my tentative three off the tee.
The Hungerford Stakes is a seven furlong Group 2. With just six runners it doesn't have the depth of the Geoffrey Freer, albeit that it is still a fair heat. The problem may be pace here, with none of the sextet an obvious front runner and, if it does become tactical, we could have an unsatisfactory result on our hands.
The ones who go in the ground best are Johnny G's Gregorian and David Simcock's Breton Rock. Gregorian can also race prominently and, if settled on the lead, I'd fancy him to make all. Trainer and jockey are in fine form.
If it does become tactical, then Breton Rock could be the chap to steal the pot. In truth, though he's talented and reliable, he's not a big enough price for me to play against the Gosden runner, and I'll stick with G, for JG.