It's a marathon of racing on TV this Saturday, with eight races broadcast on Channel 4 between 14:05 and 15:50. I'm going to leave readers to their own devices for the start and end of that extravaganza, and focus on the quintet in the middle, starting with the...
2.25 BETFRED BEVERLEY BULLET SPRINT STAKES (Listed Race) 5f
The Beverley Bullet (I really like that race title, wish there were more like that) is a five furlong Listed sprint. They'll go off hard and it will be survival of the fittest up the hill in the punishing final quarter mile. Good to firm ground is expected to be the order of the day, with light rain tonight (Friday) mitigated by a drying breeze and sunshine on Saturday.
The pace looks to be drawn in the lower five stalls, with Addictive Dream, Willbeme, and Mecca's Angel habitual trailblazers. That could set things up for a more patient ride, especially given that stiff finish. In that context, the one I like most is Rocky Ground, a Listed winner earlier in the year, and a course and distance winner around this time last season.
Since winning his Windsor Listed contest, Rocky Ground has run a gallant sixth in the Wokingham under a big weight, and had excuses for his most recent defeat in Ireland, where his first try on soft ground left him floundering.
Back on quicker, and dropped slightly in grade, he will have plenty of speed horses to aim at, and should come home with a rare rattle. He's 11/2 in a place (SkyBet) but the 5/1 BOG (1/4 the odds) looks an each way bet to nothing, assuming eight-plus stand their ground.
The favourite is likely to be Pearl Secret, and this late runner has trap one. That could end up being a nightmare 'nowhere to go' run for Jamie Spencer, making quotes of 9/4 tops passable. He can win, and is the quickest horse in the field according to Geegeez Speed Ratings (released on Monday), but that niggle about getting a clear run is enough for me to side elsewhere.
2.40 SOLARIO STAKES (Group 3) 7f
A Group 3 juvenile contest over seven furlongs, and one in which the six runner field is likely to be five by post time, assuming Elm Park takes up his engagement at Salisbury on Friday evening. The ground at Sandown is on the soft side of good, which will ensure a fair stamina test for these young horses.
Aktabantay had Cock Of The North behind when running up - at a respectful distance - to Estidhkaar in the Group 2 Superlative Stakes at Newmarket last time. That was a seven furlong race on good to soft, the same as this, and he had a couple of lengths to spare over the Cock that afternoon. It's hard to envisage a form reversal, as much as I'm fond of Scott Dixon's regular racer.
Against that pair, the unbeaten-in-one Godolphin runner, Future Empire, is held in some regard judging by entries in the Dewhurst, Racing Post Trophy, and next year's Derby. He won over seven on his debut and, as a son of New Approach out of a Diesis mare, the slightly easier turf shouldn't cause too much consternation for Team Blue.
It's 8/1 bar Akta and Future, if we assume Elm Park absents; and that brings in Pallister for Mark Johnston. This chap, a little like his namesake perhaps, is unflashy but effective. He was on the hat-trick before failing to act on either Goodwood's quirky slopes and/or the quick ground in a Group 2 last time. It is too early to write him off, and he's bred to appreciate this more sodden surface (by Pivotal).
Pallister has about seven pounds to find with Aktabantay on official figures, but can bridge at least some of that and might be the value in the race.
I won't be rushing to have a bet in this with so many if's and but's, and Pallister (9/1 888sport, 1/3 odds 1-2) is no more than a token value suggestion against the potential of Future Empire and the established form of Aktabantay.
2.55 Handicap (Class 2) 7 1/2 f
A handicap over just shy of a mile around the Roodee's hairpin curves, and at time of writing fourteen are slated to face the starter. It will be a surprise if some of the wider drawn horses are not taken out, but we might still hope for a double digit field.
Ocean Tempest looks like he might get a fairly easy lead from his stall three berthing, and he's two from two on this track. The softer the better for John Ryan's lad, and he's got stamina to see out a furlong further than this, as well as pace to optimize his good draw. Although he's spotting this field a stone and more, by virtue of two Listed wins earlier in the season, he's carried big weights successfully before. 14/1 might just be a touch of each way value given the prospect of an unpestered lead.
Against him there are plenty of options, as 7/1 the field attests. Course season ticket holder, Chosen Character, has a lot to do from a car park draw and that might compromise his ability to get close to the front, where he likes to be. And that's a shame because he has an otherwise solid enough profile. Johnno is another for whom similar comments apply.
Sir Michael Stoute sends Russian Realm north with a chance, and he is another for whom softer ground will hold no fears. After a promising spring, he's had a mildly disappointing summer. That said, he has finished close enough in all three summer starts, each of them on quicker turf. If the deeper grass ekes out a few pounds of improvement, he must be in the mix, granted a bit of luck in running.
This is brave/foolhardy punting territory, and I'll waft at it with small stakes, in the general direction of a front runner in Ocean Tempest (14/1 BOG bet365), and a late comer in Russian Realm (8/1 BOG Boylesports).
3.15 ATALANTA STAKES (Group 3) 1m
A mile Group 3 for the ladies, and it looks a compelling affair, especially with the presence of raiders from both France and Germany. Andre Fabre rarely travels across La Manche for the weather, and his Fintry has been bested by just one horse in four starts. She was a Group 2 winner last time, and was value for a bit more than the length and a quarter official verdict, disputing the lead for most of the way before accelerating clear then easing down in the straight.
Prior to that she'd beaten up a Listed field, coming away by six lengths, and she fully deserves to by 13/8, with the only reservation being her ability to travel overseas. If she was trained in Newmarket she'd be even money, and she may go off at that price yet.
German challenger, Diamond Dove, was second in the Group 1 German Oaks last time. That was over three furlongs further and, while she has form at this trip too, it is hard to imagine there won't be something nippier in the field.
Of the domestic posse, Zibelina was largely progressive last season before running fourth in this race. She was an encouraging third on her seasonal bow in 2014, but has been off for four months since, and that would be a concern. There has been early money for her, and she clearly has talent, but a defeat in the race last term - as 2/1 second favourite - and that absence is not for me.
Johnny G's Water Hole looks a nice sort. She dodged a race at Goodwood when the ground firmed up and comes here in search of the soft side of good, which she looks likely to get. It's a chunky elevation from a Class 3 handicap to a Group 3 stakes, but Gosden rarely over-faces his fillies and clearly feels she's up to the task. Both he and jockey William Buick are in rude form currently, so it is far from impossible this lass could prevail. Too skinny at 5/1 for me, though, with the class chasm that requires bridging.
Odeliz is talented but hard to win with; and Zurigha likewise. But, at a monster price, one that might scamper closer than her odds imply is Lily Rules. She looked tiny in the paddock at York earlier in the year before the Musidora Stakes, and I immediately wrote her off. But she ran a fine race in the mud that day to finish second. Shaping like a non-stayer who didn't like the quick ground both in the Oaks and a Listed event over ten furlongs since, the combination of softer and shorter could see her revert to form.
It's a bit of a long shot, granted, but she's 33/1 and might be 66/1 in places on Saturday morning. As long as there are three places to aim at, she could reward a nicker each way.
I think Fintry will probably win, especially if she gets an easy lead, and I reckon 13/8 (BetVictor) is perfectly fair.
3.30 CHESTER STAKES (Handicap) (Listed)
A cracking handicap despite the small field, with seven very good staying types in opposition. Pace could be the key here, and Franny Norton - the go to guy at Chester - rides Mark Johnston's front runner, Special Meaning (9/2 general, BOG).
Whatever is happening in behind will be of little consequence for at least a mile and a quarter of this mile and five furlongs race, as Franny looks as though he should get his own way. Special Meaning will love the ground too and, getting weight from most of her rivals, could go gate to wire.
Whiplash Willie and Noble Silk could be closing dangers, as could De Rigueur, but I'm keeping it simple: Franny to tack across from the widest draw, dominate the pace, and kick on from the top of the straight. Pursuers to be climbing over each other to chase her down. At least, that's what I hope will happen...