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Racing Insights, 29th July 2021

This will be my last Racing Insights column for a while, Chris will be welcomed back into the hot seat tomorrow. I think I’ve flagged up some decent angles in the past couple of weeks but my personal judgement on the most interesting selections to back from those angles has largely been a bit off. Hopefully I can give a good final steer in Thursday’s race of choice. My thoughts on one of the big Saturday races each week will continue to be published each Friday afternoon.

Thursday’s free feature of the day is Instant Expert for ALL races. That’s one of the most popular features of Geegeez Gold, free to use for every race on Thursday for anyone who is a registered free user of Geegeez.

Instant Expert is a massive time saver which allows the user to check and compare each horse’s, trainer’s, jockey’s and sire’s suitability to key race conditions in just a few seconds.

The free races for free registered users on Thursday are:

3.45 Nottingham
4.35 Galway
6.15 Galway
6.55 Newcastle
7.05 Epsom

Thursday’s meeting at Newcastle is the first day of the Racing League. This event has already divided the racing community somewhat but with good prize money on offer and square 12 runner fields they could make for some decent betting opportunities. With that in mind we’ll see what the 6.55 has to offer. This is a 6f, class 3 handicap open to 3yo+.

With many races run over course and distance in similar conditions in recent years we have a decent sample of data to work with so let’s take a look at some draw and pace data before doing any form analysis.

The first graph shows PRB3 data to give an overview of what should be the favoured parts of the draw. Although higher numbers have seemingly performed more positively than low numbers over this course and distance, it seems that being drawn very high isn’t ideal, perhaps increasing the chances of being trapped on the rail. Or maybe the surface is just at its fastest just off the rail. Either way the sweet spot seems to be from about 6 or 7 to 11.

In terms of pace, the draw and pace combination heat map suggests that those drawn higher are seen to best effect played late but the runners that are drawn low to middle are best off going forward. Perhaps that allows them to get closer to the rail then being either prominent or racing in mid division. The fact that held up from middle has a good PRB of 0.55 again backs that up, it’s probably not difficult to get close to the rail from there.

The pace map for this race tells us that there are two main pace angles, one drawn low (Imperial Force) and one drawn high (Lipsink). The likes of Strike Red, Walls Of Kano, Papa Stour and Mohareb could find themselves in the poorest position (furthest from the near side rail) whilst Cash Machine, Musicality and Ivatheengine will potentially enjoy the most advantageous early positions.

Now for the runners.

Lipsink

Has shown very little in three starts for Robert Cowell and his chances seem to largely depend on a wind op and first time tongue tie doing the trick. Nice enough draw and one to watch in the market but pretty much impossible to back on his most recent form.

Musicality

Showed early promise for Roger Varian last season but form tailed off towards the end of the season. His seasonal debut was a bit more like it, whilst not good enough to win this, but he’s again gone backwards since and connections now reach for first time cheekpieces. He’s another that is worth a check in the betting but is probably impossible to back on recent form.

Mohareb

All weather specialist who won last time out at Lingfield off a mark of 84. Now up to 86 but that’s a mark he’s defied in the past. He’s done most of his winning at Lingfield but has run well enough in defeat in two attempts at this venue. He’s entitled to run his race but he might be a little too high in the weights to win from a low draw knowing his run style.

Papa Stour

Another all weather specialist and one that has dropped to a nice enough mark having been largely out or form this year. He’s 2lbs lower than his last win and returned to form last time out in first time cheekpieces when a narrowly beaten third. He made the running that day and may be an additional pace option here. That effort did come at Chelmsford, a course that suits his run style very well, and he might be a little more vulnerable here at a venue and over a trip where he has never won.

Ivatheengine

Won three in a row last summer and then had his season cut short. He’s only managed three runs in the past year (all since April) and he was below par in all of those. Connections have pinned their hopes of wind surgery in a bid to get him back to sorts and he’d be very much of interest if he is but he’s another one of these that can’t really be backed unless there is significant market support suggesting a return to form is on the cards.

Irish Acclaim

It's fair to say he’s better on artificial surfaces than turf and has a split handicap mark to prove it. He was successful over this trip at Dundalk in March and after some largely lacklustre efforts on turf he was then 2nd recently in a 7f claimer. He didn’t run up to his mark that day though and he’s probably not well handicapped on any surface currently.

Bowling Russian

Another who is better on the all weather but even on artificial surfaces he hasn’t been running to form in recent months, beaten 6 lengths at Lingfield two starts ago in February. It’s difficult to weigh up his turf return in June given he rarely runs well on the green stuff but either way he is still 2lbs higher than his last win which came at Lingfield in November. He has a bit of improving to do and will need the return of the visor to spark of form revival.

Strike Red

Likely to be amongst the favourites for this given he’s a lightly raced 3yo who won by 2 lengths last time out. That form hasn’t really worked out and he’s 6lbs higher here meaning he needs to improve again but there is every chance he does that. This is a better race than he’s previously contested and he doesn’t seem particularly well drawn so he may needs to be well ahead of his new mark to win this. One of his best pieces of form was his racecourse debut when 4th to some smart types and that was his only start on an artificial surface (came here) so he does have potential to improve switching back to this surface.

Cash Machine

Another unexposed 3yo and he’ll be making his handicap debut here after just three starts, giving us a bit of guesswork to do. On debut he was a length behind now 90 rated Popmaster, in receipt of 7lbs, so potentially ran to a mark around 80 that day. That’s certainly not bad for a racecourse debut. He seemed to run to an even better level when winning a decent Chelmsford maiden next time out, doing well to come from off the pace when the others involved in the finish were ridden much more prominently.

Then after a 60 day break he tried to give weight to some promising types in a 7f novice at Wolverhampton. He was 2nd, beaten just half a length giving 7lbs to Wizard D’Amour who ran at least to his mark of 77 on his next start. He probably didn’t improve for the step up to 7f that day but did look to stay the trip. The handicapper has probably got things about right giving him a mark of 82 but he’s capable of improving again beyond that mark given he’s had just three runs and he’s well enough drawn here. Laura Pearson’s 5lb claim could end up being the difference maker.

Royal Musketeer

Only seven runs so far, six of which have come on turf and one of which has come on the all weather. It’s worth noting that he’s so far unbeaten on artificial surfaces. He probably didn’t run above his current mark on that one all weather start though so it’s worth treating him as if he’s just as good on turf. He hasn’t been the most consistent but won a weak Ripon handicap over this distance in June and was 2nd at Haydock last time out off a 2lb lower mark, seemingly with no excuses. Could run okay again but it’s not clear where the improvement is going to come from to win a better race here.

Walls Of Kano

Had just the four runs and was well backed when winning a novice stakes on his second racecourse visit in May. He was well beaten carrying a penalty next time and didn’t improve dropped to this trip in handicap company next time out. It seems likely he’s badly handicapped but it’s not out of the question that he’s better than he’s shown to date. Might have the worst of the draw.

Imperial Force

Started the season rated 93 and ran okay in a first time visor on seasonal debut here trying to give Haveagomecca (now rated 80) 12lbs, going down by less than a length. Connections have largely kept him out of handicap company and he’s been expensive to follow and a bit regressive since. He bumped into a now 95 rated rival in a Yarmouth maiden and was trying to give that horse 3lbs on that day but he was beaten almost 7 lengths so you can’t draw too many positives from that effort.

It's a stretch to suggest he’s going to bounce back to anything like his initial mark of 95 but he seemed to run much better than his current mark of 74 when last here and is capable of being in the thick of things. He’s not very well drawn (but could nullify that by going forward) and doesn’t always look the most straight forward so a place might be on the cards but a win looks unlikely.

Summary

Not an easy puzzle to solve. The likes of Lipsink, Musicality and Ivatheengine all have at least one factor that could help them bounce back to form but they are easy to oppose on recent form.

Mohareb is one of the more solid contenders and he would have made more appeal with a higher draw but he’s only fairly handicapped now and looks more likely to find a couple too good.

Papa Stour is probably a little better at Chelmsford so the one who appeals most is Cash Machine. He’s open to the most improvement out of these and given he has yet to run in a handicap there is more scope for him to be ahead of his mark than those who have already shown their hands. He’s seemingly got pretty much everything in his favour, has run to a consistent level of form on all three starts and seems sure to go well. He won’t be a huge price but could have better claims than the fellow market fancy Strike Red.

Northumberland Vase Preview: Everybody Loves Raymond

It’s the big handicaps at Newcastle that appeal on Saturday and as is often the case, it’s the consolation race rather than Northumberland Plate that is of most interest. These consolation races usually contain far more unexposed, progressive types and for me at least, they are much better betting races.

The Northumberland Vase is due off at 2.55pm and just like the Plate, will be run over an extended two miles. It’s worth noting that whilst the course has been riding fairly slow, forecast rain on Friday should quicken the surface up a bit.

All of the data used below is available through a Geegeez Gold subscription. Click here to get your first 30 days of Geegeez Gold for just £1.

Draw

A big field and a round course, any hint of a draw bias here?

Newcastle have only been racing on their all weather surface for five years which leaves us with just a limited data set for big field two mile races. What data we do have suggests that there isn’t much difference between middle and high draws but low draws seem to be disadvantaged.

This goes against convention around a bend so let’s see exactly what the data implies. With a relatively limited data sample it doesn’t seem worth investing too much into the win percentage data, but a quick examination shows just a 3.51% win ratio for low draws, with 5.36% of middle drawn runners winning and a relatively massive 10.53% of high drawn horses emerge victorious.

The place percentage data should be much reliable than the win percentage data and this again points to higher draws being favoured with place percentages of 14.04%, 23.21% and 27.19% for low, middle and high draws respectively.

PRB is a much better metric to use in small samples, again the data points to higher draws. Low draws produce a PRB of just 0.44 compared to 0.52 and 0.53 for middle and high respectively.

With some big differences between low and middle let’s see where the sweet spots in the draw are likely to be.

The first thing that stands out here is the top four individual stalls as far as PRB are concerned are 17, 18, 20 and 16 (in that order). It is worth noting though that these stalls have very few runners so the data could be slightly misleading. Having said that the fact that all four of those stalls do so well seems too conclusive to be a coincidence.

At the other end of the scale, the worst two draws belong to stalls 1 and 2. They have individual stall PRBs of 0.39 and 0.33 respectively which is pretty awful. Stall 5 also performs poorly but stalls 4, 6 and 8 have done well in the past so whilst a very low draw might be highly disadvantageous, the low to middle draws shouldn’t be completely discounted even if it's an advantage to have a higher draw.

Looking at the individual stall data group, which is presenting PRB3 data, it does seem that the higher the draw the better with the line steadily climbing as you move into double figure stalls.

Win percentages can be misleading in smaller samples but it is worth noting that the top seven win percentages all belong to stalls 9 or higher.

Now I’ve watched several of these races back to try and determine a reason for this bias. My theory is that the horses that have been going round off the rail tend to deliver their challenges down the middle of the straight whereas those drawn on the rail tend to challenge closer to the far side rail (not necessarily on the rail). In straight course races they tend to come up the middle to near side and there is every chance a higher draw over this distance spits the higher draw runners out onto the fastest part of the straight.

Pace

Let’s now examine potential pace biases in this race.

Again not a massive sample, so the place percentage data will be much more interesting than the win percentage data. Looking at the win data though it’s an extremely close contest with just 1.52% separating the best and worst records, which belong to front runners and prominent racers respectively.

The place percentage data is also very well matched with most success gained from the front (26.92%) followed by 24.69% for prominent, 21.25% for mid division and 19.33% for hold up performers. That data does suggest you are slightly better off being closer to the pace than further but there really isn’t a huge amount in it and it looks a pretty fair course and distance.

Northumberland Vase Pace Map

Given that this venue looks pretty fair pace wise, I’d be far more concerned with the individual set up of the race then anything else, which is where the pace map comes in.

This race should be run at a good gallop with two last time out early leaders (Rochester House and A Star From Above) and the likes of Margaret Dumont, Bellatrixsa, Mr Chua, Raymond, Al Kout and Red Force One all also having led on at least one recent start.

By contrast, the likes of Zeeband, Indigo Times, Dreamweaver, Cleonte and Monsieur Lambrays are all consistently dropped out in the rear of the field and that quintet all look likely to be suited by the likely good gallop here. Being extremely patiently ridden didn’t look absolutely ideal according to the place percentage data on the Pace Analyser but granted a strong gallop here it might end up being the place to be, or at least mid division could be.

Draw and Pace Combination

Before we get into the runners and riders here I also want to look at one of my favourite parts of Geegeez Gold, the Draw and Pace Combination Heat Map which is particularly useful for big field races that have either a draw or pace bias (preferably both!).

Given the fairly small sample size we are dealing with here these figures can be taken with a slight pinch of salt but by looking at PRB data from previous big fields we do end up with a fair amount of runners producing data.

The heat map shows that a low draw is easier to overcome with a prominent position but leading from a low draw tends to result in a poor run.

If drawn in the middle, prominent or mid division tends to be best whilst higher draws are also seen to good effect when held up with a high draw seemingly the best starting position for front runners.

Given a likely good gallop here, the middle to high drawn hold up performers seem likely to receive some form of advantage.

The Runners

A rundown of the leading contenders for this, in early odds order.

East Asia

On a roll with three wins in a row on turf since joining Ian Williams and has appreciated the step up to two miles on his last two starts, winning both races fairly comfortably. What is interesting here is the fact that he gets to run off his all weather mark which is 2lbs lower than his last winning mark on turf and 7lbs lower than his new turf mark.

The question has to be is he as good on artificial surfaces? That’s a difficult one to answer considering all his previous runs away from turf came on dirt. His best performances on dirt seemed to coincide with the longer trips he tackled, finishing 2nd and 3rd over 13f and 2nd over 2m. Those efforts were off lower marks in the UAE, on a different surface, so there is plenty of guesswork involved.

After this race his all weather mark is either going to look extremely generous or we’ll know he’s much better on turf. Connections are likely to have a good idea if he’s going to be just as good on tapeta as turf so expect a further plunge in the market ahead of a possible success but the early odds are short enough in such an open race for one that has some question marks.

Indigo Times

No question marks about Indigo Times’ love affair with an all weather surface, he has won six times on artificial surfaces but he has never raced here and was beaten off 26lb lower marks on his only two tapeta starts (at Wolverhampton). He did where a hood for those starts and it’s possible it held him back or it may have been the surface. Either way his all weather form since coming away from tapeta and having the hood removed reads 1121111. He has been a bit of a Chelmsford specialist but did win comfortably at Kempton last time out.

The fact he ran well enough on turf in a hood between two slightly below par performances on tapeta in the same headgear is a concern, and he’s probably drawn slightly lower than ideal in stall 5. His hold up run style should be suited to this race though.

Zeeband

Lightly raced and representing Roger Varian so commands plenty of respect. He was progressive at 14f last season on turf and his beating of Ispahan at Thirsk (now 8lbs higher) reads fairly well as Zeeband is also 8lbs higher now and he still ran green that day. There was no disgrace in finding the progressive Prince Alex too good on his final start last year.

He reappeared with a solid 3rd and that form has worked out okay. He hasn’t particularly been crying out for further than the 14f he has raced over so far though and he’s also only run exclusively on turf to date. Add to that he’s drawn in stall 2 and connections have reached for a first time visor and the question marks begin to appear and he’s opposable at the price for all he may win, comments which apply to the two in front of him in the market too.

A Star Above

Moved through the ranks nicely last year for William Haggas, running a particularly respectable 4th in the Melrose Handicap at York, staying on well. He was successful when trying that trip this season, for the first time since the Melrose, in what has turned out to be a pretty solid handicap (plenty of placed form coming out of it).

He was dropped back to 12f on his next start though, possibly a sign connections don’t see him as a stayer, and his prominent racing style could leave him vulnerable here with a strong gallop likely.

Raymond

An seemingly exposed, dual purpose 6yo but on closer inspection he’s had just the six flat starts, producing form figures of 214121. His worst flat performance came at Southwell, so easy enough to write that one off, and he has won here at Newcastle, albeit over 10f in novice company. He has won over an extended 13f at Chelmsford and over 2m at York so has fewer question marks than many of those above him in the betting.

He’s pretty flexible as far as tactics are concerned and was held up in mid division on his most recent start which would seem the best thing to do here.

The form of his latest win has worked out well with the 3rd and 4th both winning since so a 4lb rise looks lenient – the handicapper agrees as he’s since put him up another pound but that new mark hasn’t kicked in here.

Stall 13 looks good and could encourage his pilot to drop him in which will probably be advantageous and he looks to have a solid chance at a fair price.

Byron Hill

Lightly raced and shed his maiden tag last time out over 14f at Yarmouth. He won comfortably last time out and is 2lbs well in here under his penalty but that form has taken a few knocks since, not necessarily a massive worry as those behind him weren’t particularly competitive.

He ran over course and distance last season, finishing 4th, in a race won by Bellatrixsa who reopposes here. He’s well enough drawn in 12 and his run style should suit the pace of this race. He looks the sort to run with credit but there have to be some doubts about how well handicapped he is, for all he is relatively progressive.

Margaret Dumont

Hugo Palmer’s 4yo has looked a thorough stayer since her very first starts (when racing for Mark Johnston). Since joining Palmer she’s raced almost exclusively on the all weather with her only turf run seeing her well beaten over this trip. Fast ground was blamed.

Her all weather form does look the most relevant with a view to this race and she’s been pretty consistent with form figures of 3212. The win came at Chelmsford, no real surprise given she looks a real grinder and she bounced back from her poor run on turf with a solid 2nd to a big improver last time out.

She looks pretty one paced and could get caught out against some speedier types here, even in a race that could bring out her stamina. She won’t get an easy lead either and she’s drawn low in stall 3. Probably one to note when tackling this trip at Chelmsford.

Blow Your Horn

A Golden Horn gelding that has improved as he’s gone up in trip since the winter. The majority of his starts have come on the all weather (has won here) but he seems equally good on turf, softer ground blamed for his latest lacklustre effort. Before that he won on his first try at 14f (at Chelmsford), his second win on the bounce.

He’s now gone up 10lbs for his two wins so needs to not only prove himself at this trip, but also off this mark. Being held up from stall 11 could bring about the best in him though.

Bellatrixsa

All five runs since winning over course and distance have been over hurdles and a hurdle mark of 122 means she could be well handicapped here off 77. Venetia Williams has already plundered the Chester Vase this season and given Bellatrixsa had several future winners in behind her on her last flat run, and has improved since over hurdles, she seems slightly overlooked by the bookies. There is plenty to like about her form and she holds Byron Hill on her last win but she’s likely to be close to the pace from stall 4 which could be her undoing.

Cosmelli

Won this in 2018 off a 4lb higher mark and went close here off a 2lb higher mark in December. He’s run a total of thirteen times over course and distance alone, meaning he has more experience here than many of these have had in their entire careers. His record is two wins and five places from those thirteen runs and he could run well here although he’s not always the most consistent and is definitely vulnerable to an improver.

Brasca

Finished last when only 10/1 for the Chester Vase and has only beaten one rival home in two starts at two miles plus. He does have a solid profile on the all weather (form figures of 1221) and does still look well handicapped at 14f on artificial surfaces but based on his turf form he looks an unlikely winner at this trip.

Vibrance

All four of his wins have come over Kempton’s two miles and ten of his eleven placed efforts have come at that venue too. His one placed run away from Kempton was here at Newcastle over an inadequate trip but that was off a 21lb lower mark.

His form seems to have plateaued at his favourite venue now too so he’s opposable here against more progressive types.

Cleonte

This 8yo has been a credit to connections and although he’s unlikely to ever run to his peak rating of 108 again, he won’t need to in order to get his head in front as he’s rated just 89 here. He was a comfortable winner off a 2lb lower mark at Kempton in March and ran well enough twice on turf after that before finding very soft ground against him at Ascot last time out. That run is forgivable but it came just a week ago and that effort may have left its mark on him.

He only made his all weather debut in November as a 7yo and he steadily ran himself into form over the winter. He ran a good 2nd here in February over course and distance behind a progressive Sir Mark Prescott horse running up a sequence, that runner won on his next two starts. He’s well suited by a good stamina test so a strong pace here would suit and he’s likely to be dropped out from stall 14 which is no problem. He’s one that should be able to outrun his odds if that latest effort hasn’t left its mark but he’ll probably find a few too good regardless.

Red Force One

Beat Raymond in a muddling small field handicap two starts ago, winning on the bridle, but didn’t back that up last time out on softer ground at Epsom. Going back up in trip should suit but probably not this far, he was well beaten at Ascot over two miles when trying this distance last season. He might not be well enough handicapped anyway and could be one of those involved in an early speed duel.

Autumn War

Something to prove after being beaten 22 lengths at Epsom last time out but his better turf form had come on better ground and he seems better over further than a mile and a half these days. Autumn War hadn’t run for a year before making his stable debut in October last year on soft ground, a run that did nothing but blow the cobwebs away. Next time out, up in trip with a visor fitted, he ran out a comfortable winner at Wolverhampton and he followed that up with another win, beating much of the same field again.

That last win worked out very well with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th all winning shortly after, meaning Autumn War has to be considered at least fairly handicapped here off just a 4lb higher mark. He hasn’t progressed since then but all his subsequent starts have come over shorter than his last win and he was found to be lame and to have bled on his last two starts on the all weather respectively. Hasn’t looked to be crying out for this trip but did seem to find 12f too short on his penultimate start so there is some hope of staying this far.

Dreamweaver

Yet to win in seven starts off marks in the 80s and certainly needs to improve for the step up in trip here, which is a substantial one. He doesn’t look well handicapped or a certain stayer so not difficult to put a line through him.

Rochester House

Ran well over this trip on seasonal debut but hasn’t performed to the same level in two starts over further since (does stay further than two miles). He’s rated 4lbs lower on the all weather and although he’s never shone at Kempton (beaten exactly 46 lengths on both starts) he was a winner off a 1lb lower mark over this trip at Lingfield and was beaten only a length off this mark on his only start over course and distance so does have some fair all weather form. He’s likely to get taken on for the lead and is drawn in stall 1 which is enough to look elsewhere.

Monsieur Lambrays

Has improved with racing and finished last season on a career high mark of 92 having picked up two wins in 2020, including one over this trip at York. He’s barely beaten a rival in three runs since that win but got a lot closer on his only run this year, finishing last of four but beaten less than 4 lengths. That form has worked out okay and he’s entitled to improve on that run so he’s probably overpriced, especially as he’s unbeaten in two tapeta runs (both at Wolverhampton at a much lower level admittedly).

Al Kout

Habitual front runner who has been in fairly decent form this season but was well beaten last time out on soft ground (did have previous form on that going). He doesn’t find winning easy with only two career successes and the fact he’s finished second nine times suggests he’s a bit of a thinker. He has been in the frame in eleven out of seventeen all weather starts though and his course and distance runs have produced form figures of 232 off similar sorts of marks. He’s best when dominating small fields though and could get swamped here.

Mr Chua

Progressive last season until flopping in the Cesarewitch and ran no sort of race last time out on his first start since wind surgery. Potential to improve for that and resume progression but he’s going to get taken on for the lead and hasn’t proved he’s as good on the all weather as he is on turf, even if he is back to form.

The Verdict

Fair to say this is wide open, I couldn’t confidently rule out more than a few of these.

I am fairly keen to back Autumn War back on the all weather and I’m happy to forgive his latest run on softer turf but I’m fairly certain 14f is his trip and I’m willing to leave him alone, even at a big price here.

Blow Your Horn seems to have better claims of staying this far, the offspring of Golden Horn have a massive PRB of 0.74 at this trip, admittedly from a sample of just eleven runners. He’ll need to improve for the extra trip but Jamie Spencer could be seen to best effect here holding him up off a strong gallop.

A more reliable option in a difficult race could be RAYMOND though. He’s one of the only market principles with proven stamina and proven all weather form and he won a good handicap last time out, good enough that the handicapper has regretted only raising him 4lbs for the win. He doesn’t have much big field form on the flat but he did win two 14 runner contests over obstacles. There don’t seem any real negatives other than the slight lack of ‘sexy’ profile some of these have and he’s worth an each way wager at around 12/1.

Bellatrixsa is also interesting but the draw and competition for the early lead is off putting.