Ascot host the valuable Totescoop6 Victoria Cup tomorrow with £65,363 going to the winner.
The task of finding the first home in this ultra-competitive handicap is as tough as ever, with just the 29 runners to choose from for the seven-furlong dash. Trends are always an aid to uncovering the likely winners, and as is often the case in these handicaps, those trends are familiar ones.
Weight is usually a factor and the Victoria Cup is no exception. Only three of the last 12 winners have managed to carry more than 9st to victory, with that trend strengthening in recent years to one horse in the last nine. That one winner was Gabriel’s Lad, and his success came in 2014 when the event attracted a classy field with only seven horses carrying less than 9st.
The age of the contenders is another crucial factor when searching for a winner. Those aged four and five have dominated the race, with just three aged six and above winning in the last dozen renewals. Three of the first four last year followed that trend, as was the case 12 months earlier.
In a race with such a huge field, many will look for a draw bias in the hope of discounting a large number of runners. Sadly, for punters the stats suggest that no such bias exists, with horses drawn high, mid or low just as successful over the years.
Another important factor is the racing style of the horse. Don’t expect a front-runner to make all and hang on for victory in this event. The last half dozen winners were all held up for a late challenge. In last year’s race, Speculative Bid swept from last to first, closely followed by Lincoln, who with a clearer passage may well have won the race. Hold-up horses rule in the Victoria Cup, with those on the front end running out of gas late on.
It’s also important for contenders to have had experience at the trip. The seven-furlong at Ascot proves a serious test for horses that are essentially staying sprinters. Having just enough stamina in that final furlong will prove crucial.
Predominance currently heads the market, and the lightly raced four-year-old ticks plenty of the boxes from a trends point of view. He’s only run five times which is a slight concern in such a competitive handicap, though four of those runs came in handicaps. He won such a race at Haydock last time, when finishing strongly over seven furlongs to get up in the shadow of the post. He was held up in midfield that day before finding the gaps at the crucial moment. He’s progressive, carries 8st 12lbs, and should run well.
Godolphin have the second favourite for the race in Hold Tight. He’s nicely bred, as one would expect, but has only run three times in his career. His last outing came at Lingfield in a six runner event. On the little evidence we have, he looks talented, but this race is far removed from anything he’s tasted before. It’s hard to imagine that he has quite enough experience to win a handicap of this nature.
Sir Michael Stoute has started the new campaign in corking form. His Grand Inquisitor is another lightly raced four-year-old, but does possess handicap experience, along with an Ascot run under his belt. He’s by Dansili out of a Zafonic mare and should appreciate the quicker ground on Saturday. His seasonal opener was a reasonable effort in testing ground at Newmarket, and that should have put him straight for this. He’s part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, and I fancy he’ll run a huge race.
It would be wrong to dismiss Mullionheir, who creeps in towards the bottom of the handicap. He rose an incredible 30lbs during 2015, finishing the season with a win at Newbury. He had Withernsea behind him that day, and he’s a decent yardstick when assessing the form. He may prove a little one-paced, but he’s not without a chance and is another progressive four-year-old.
Two from the top end of the handicap that look closely matched and could defy the trends are Buckstay and Flash Fire. They clashed at Newmarket last August with less than a length between them at the finish. Flash Fire is a tank of a horse, and will be fit from a winter at Meydan. I’ll forgive him his last performance in the mud at Newmarket.
Buckstay is a classy sort and enjoys Ascot. He came fourth in this race last year, but has taken a huge hike up the handicap since then. He’ll be ridden by Jamie Spencer who won on him in a similar race at the track last October. Expect him to be delivered at the very last moment.
It should be a cracker, and I’m taking Grand Inquisitor to win for Sir Michael, with Godolphin’s Flash Fire going close at big odds. Though I won’t be backing him, I’d expect Buckstay to hit the frame.