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Ebor Handicap 2021 Preview and Tips: Away He Goes Ticks All The Boxes

It’s quality not quantity as far as the live races on Saturday are concerned and as I’m a big handicap fan the choice seems to be the Melrose or the Ebor, both run over the same course and distance. I love a 3yo stayer but there are just too many unknowns in the Melrose with so many lightly raced runners meaning it’s the big one, the Ebor Handicap, that I’ll be previewing this week.

The race is due off at 3.35pm and as usual it will be run over York’s 1m6f course. There are 22 runners (plus reserves) to go through and hopefully the race will be run on good to firm ground. There is rain forecast on Saturday but the vast majority is likely to fall after the race and after racing finishes as things stand. This of course could change between now and Saturday though.

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

The effect of the draw on round course races can sometimes be overlooked, and sometimes overestimated, where do you want to be drawn over this course and distance?

Not much between the win figures but slightly against convention the place percentages and PRB figures suggest low is slightly disadvantaged with a considerably lower place percentage compared to middle and high and a slightly worse PRB score than the higher draws.

This is something that should be investigated further with the individual stall data.

It’s worth noting that eight of the best nine individual stall PRB figures belong to double figure draws with 16, 18, 19 and 20 filling the top four positions. This would suggest the higher the draw the better.

Stalls 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 are all amongst the poorer performers with PRB figures between 0.47 and 0.39.

Stalls 1 and 20 have both previously won this race so you can clearly win from anywhere and no draw should be written off but slight preference would be for something drawn in the top half of the draw, all other things being equal.

Pace

The shorter trips here favour early pace, what about this distance?

Quite the opposite when it comes to the 1m6f distance here with hold up performers bossing it in terms of both win percentage and place percentage. The place percentages suggest there isn’t much between mid division and front running with prominent coming out worse of all with a place percentage that is three times worse than that for the most patiently ridden types.

It’s not impossible to make all here but it’s pretty clear that on fast ground it will be difficult to dominate and in most cases those that are held up and delivered late may have a distinct advantage.

The individual pace make up of each race will obviously have an impact on this but granted an even to strong early gallop the best value could be gained from hold up performers in this race.

Ebor Handicap 2021 Pace Map

Here is the pace map for the 2021 running of the Ebor Handicap at York.

There clearly isn’t going to be an extremely strong pace in this with just one recognised front runner (Mt Leinster) but Makawee has led in two of his last three starts (was held up on his penultimate run making his average run style look slightly less prominent). Max Vega is another who has led in two of his last three runs so there should be no shortage of pace and at the very least we’ll likely get an even gallop that could give a slight edge to the runners that are held up.

Draw and Pace Combination

With such a big field here we could witness some micro advantages within the usual draw and pace biases so the draw and pace combination heat map will help highlight those.

What this heat map tells us that front runners are best served by a middle draw with prominent racers doing best from a low draw (but not doing well in general). Low draws that race in mid division seem to perform extremely poorly but they do much better from middle to low draws and the draw doesn’t seem to matter at all if you are held up.

So whilst a low draw had seemed a slight disadvantage according to the draw data, this helps highlight that it is no disadvantage at all if you are going to be held up but the stats aren’t good for all other run types with low draws.

The Runners

Here are the runners for the 2021 Ebor Handicap, in early odds order:

Live Your Dream *FIRST RESERVE*

The ante post favourite for this isn’t guaranteed a run, he needs one to come out. Quite a few of the field would prefer rain so maybe he’ll get a run but most entries are going to want to see how early Saturday’s rain turns up which could count against him.

On form he has obvious claims having bolted up in an uncompetitive Wolverhampton handicap before winning a 15 runner heritage handicap over this trip at Newmarket at the July Festival. That looks pretty solid form, even if it hasn’t worked out particularly well, and he can’t really be crabbed for beating everything he’s come up against comfortably at this trip or further.

Sonnyboyliston

Yet to race on faster than good but his better form has come on better ground so there should be no issues with underfoot conditions. One of his most interesting pieces of form is his 4.25 length victory at the Curragh 11 months ago which worked out well and that effort suggests he was more well in than the 9lb higher mark he now runs off.

His form has been slightly underwhelming this season though for one of his rating. He won a pretty poor listed race in June over 12f and his two runs over further haven’t particularly advertised his claims for this – he was behind three of these rivals last time out over course and distance including Roberto Escobar who he has to give weight to here.

Hamish

Still lightly raced and certainly a horse to be interested in given he won twice over course and distance in 2019 before being beaten just a neck by subsequent group 1 winner Trueshan off level weights. He only managed one run last season though, which was an eyecatching run at Royal Ascot.

His form is top notch and he’s certainly capable of proving better than his handicap mark of 108 but he hasn’t been seen for 428 days and on top of that he’d prefer softer ground by all accounts, for all he has won on good to firm here previously. In these big handicaps you tend to get one horse who shortens dramatically just before the off and Hamish looks like that sort of runner. Either way he's certainly one to watch in the market, even if he is already well found.

Ilaraab

Likes it here as he’s won both starts on the Knavesmire but he’s pretty ground dependent (was withdrawn on good ground last time out). He beat an okay field by 3 lengths here in May off a mark of 102 which was a smart effort but he seemed to have his limitations exposed somewhat next time out at Royal Ascot in deeper company. The return to this venue may suit but he’ll want plenty of rain and he still has to prove himself over this trip.

Mt Leinster

The sole runner for Willie Mullins, who had several well fancied entries at the five day stage. He’s only had four runs on the flat producing form figures of 1211. In September last year he beat 101 rated Cape Gentleman in a listed contest by 5 lengths so the fact he runs off 102 here is interesting, especially as he was giving Cape Gentleman 11lbs that day.

He certainly looks well handicapped but he hasn’t been seen for 314 days and there has to be a ground concern as all his wins have come on soft ground and he’s been beaten all seven times he’s raced on anything better (even yielding). Yet another that will likely want rain.

Tribal Craft

He's been running very well this term and a 2 length defeat at the hands of Wonderful Tonight last time out at Goodwood is certainly no disgrace, even in receipt of 3lbs. That effort means he’s 4lbs well in here but once again, he’s one of those that surely wants rain having been kept to soft ground all season. Ignoring a three runner novice race win he’s been beaten in all eight runs that have come on good to soft or faster.

Fujaira Prince

Last year’s winner has only had one run this season so far and it was a fair 3rd over course and distance in listed company, leaving the impression he’d come on for the run. His win in this last year came on soft and he does prefer cut in the ground but he’s run well on good to firm and good ground previously, in fact he’s run well everytime he’s reached a racecourse given he’s yet to finish out of the first 3 in all 11 starts.

He’s up 6lbs from last year’s win which doesn’t rule him out and this has surely been the plan all season. He followed up last year’s victory with a 2nd place in the Irish St Leger so he’s clearly very useful but he could end up finding a couple better handicapped.

Mirann

Plenty of solid form in the book and stays the trip. Only 1lb higher than a decent 4th at Royal Ascot in the Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap. The ground could be a problem though. If it stay fast then he’s unproven on it and his best form is on softer. If it does soften then there are almost certainly better handicapped runners with give in the ground.

Away He Goes

He's 2lbs well in following a career best 2nd in the Goodwood Cup. That effort came on soft ground but his previous three wins have been on much faster ground so he could be capable of better yet, especially as he’s not fully exposed after 15 runs so far (only 4 of those have been at further than 12f).

He has work to do with a couple of these based on his run in the Silver Cup Stakes here but a bigger field and stronger pace will be in his favour and he’s not to be underestimated, for all he might be even better over 2 miles than this trip. Drawn extremely wide but that’s not necessarily a disadvantage.

Humanitarian

Another one that comes here off an absence, Humanitarian hasn’t been seen since winning over 12f at Newbury 11 months ago. That win came off a 455 day break meaning he’s had just the one run in the past 26 months. He’s seemingly one of the few that wants the rain to stay away here and he’s proven he can run well after a long break already. The horse he beat last time out, Dubai Future, has subsequently rated 11lbs higher and Humanitarian runs off just a 4lb higher mark here. He’s unproven over this trip but oth his runs at 12f suggest he’ll stay.

Quickthorn

Mudlark who won back to back races on testing ground earlier this season before finding things happening too quickly on good ground in the Silver Cup Stakes when behind several of these. He was poorly in at the weights that day and would be capable of a bold showing on soft or heavy here given his profile but it’s hard to see the ground softening enough in time for him. Something like the Old Borough Cup at Haydock (usually run on testing ground) would be a suitable target after this.

Roberto Escobarr

Very lightly raced still and a 4 length defeat of Matthew Flinders last season (rated just 1lb inferior to Roberto Escobarr now) suggests he could be well handicapped still. He’s 2 from 4 here at York, has won his only start on good to firm (beating a subsequent listed winner) and ran well last time out in the Silver Cup Stakes just half a length behind Fujaira Prince who he now gets 7lbs from. Roberto Escobarr was well placed in that contest but he does look decent value here.

Shanroe

A handicap winner over this trip last time out on good ground which took his flat record to 3 from 5. He’s won on soft ground but he’s also run several good races on good ground so underfoot conditions shouldn’t bother him. The handicap he won in October over this distance off an 18lb lower mark worked out well, which you’d hope for given his subsequent rise in the weights, plus the form of his latest win is pretty solid too. Very few negatives and he’s at the right end of the weights to progress further.

Alounak

Not the most consistent but he’s come good on his last two starts and he’s shaping as though worth trying over this trip. He seems pretty reliant on very soft ground though and the form of his Old Borough Cup win hasn’t really worked out so he could be vulnerable whatever the ground.

Global Storm

Slightly surprising to see him available at twice the price of Live Your Dream given they were separated by less than a length at Newmarket with Global Storm now 3lbs better off. His better form has generally come at Newmarket but it’s also generally come with a bit of cut in the ground too so if the ground was to ease even slightly he might have better claims of reversing that form. Global Storm did prove himself away from Newmarket when placing at Royal Ascot and given his consistent profile there will certainly be worse each way bets out there.

On To Victory

Won last year’s November Handicap in testing conditions and ran extremely well to get as close to Hukum as he did at Goodwood in May, surely running above his rating of 104. It was therefore a bit underwhelming that he was only 5th off this mark last time out in a handicap at that same venue when getting his ground again. Three of his four wins have come on soft, the other came on good to soft, so he needs rain to be at his best and he needs to improve on that latest run but he has a chance on his best efforts and Saffie Osbourne claims a useful 5lbs.

Pablo Escobarr

Runs against his full brother Roberto Escobarr here, who seems to have a decent chance if the rain stays away until after the race. Unsurprisingly he seems to have a similar going preference to his brother and he seems to have a similar level of ability too. He was rated 5lbs higher last year and hasn’t been the most consistent but he’s probably been campaigned with this in mind and should be cherry ripe now.

He was quite well fancied for this race last year but the ground went against him and connections have been playing with different headgear since. Cheekpieces go back on here for the first time since he was a good 3rd in a listed race over an inadequate trip last year and he’s been shaping as though this sort of trip and big field could be what he wants. Not very reliable but probably overpriced if the rain stays away.

Euchen Glen

A credit to connections who is extremely versatile. He put in a rare below par effort last time which is a slight concern but more of a concern is the fact that he’s 15lbs higher than when winning last year’s Old Borough Cup and 14lbs higher than when 5th in this race last year.

Blue Cup

A slightly frustrating sort who finally came good at Epsom in June when winning by a wide margin and he backed that up with a decent effort in the Wolferton at Royal Ascot when 4th. He ran less well last time out at Newbury and he’s on a stiff enough mark now having gone up 16lbs since his last win and this trip isn’t one he’s sure to see out.

Eagles By Day

Just one win outside of maiden company but it did come over course and distance on good ground in last season’s Silver Cup Stakes. He’s been highly tried since but without any success and in all probability his mark flatters him. He’s only had one run this season, perhaps by design, but he’s got plenty to find.

Makawee

A regular at this venue with a total of eight runs here and he generally seems to run her race with form figures of 15220333. She got 5lbs and an almost 3 length beating from Roberto Escobarr over course and distance earlier this season and is unlikely to reverse that form on these terms.

Max Vega

Still lightly raced and he’s looked better on softer ground to date. With that in mind he didn’t run too badly on seasonal debut on good ground in the Silver Cup Stakes behind several of these given he was poorly positioned, may have needed the run and would have find the surface lively enough. He was 2.25 lengths behind Away He Goes for example and he'll get 5lbs from him here.

Unfortunately if the rain comes and the ground goes in his favour this probably become a more competitive race and he could get found out still. On good to soft he’d represent fair value though.

Mekong

Not the force he was for Sir Michael Stoute and hasn’t really run to form since early last year. Difficult to see him bouncing back in such a competitive race.

The Verdict

A tremendously tricky puzzle to solve, complicated further by the possibility of the ground slowly easing throughout the day. At the time of writing this rain is likely to hit towards the end of the card (and after) so the race being run on ground softer than good seems unlikely for now. That would be a negative for the likes of Ilaraab, Mt Leinster, Mirann, Tribal Craft, Alounak, Quickthorn, On To Victory and Max Vega, amongst others. That’s almost half the field plus Fujaira Prince, Hamish and Global Storm would prefer the rains to come, even if they have run well on faster ground before.

Hamish in particular is very interesting still. He’s been extremely consistent to date on the racecourse and has even proven he can run well off this sort of absence before. He’s still a risky proposition though given the absence and the ground so unless there is sustained market support he’s probably not one to get too involved in at the price.

If the ground does stay on the fast side then Live Your Dream, Sonnyboyliston, Humanitarian, Away He Goes, Roberto Escobarr, and Pablo Escobarr should all run well. Humanitarian is very interesting and like Hamish, he’s proved himself off an absence before but still plenty has to be taken on trust. The Escobarr brothers are probably overpriced but neither are particularly reliable.

The Silver Cup Stakes could be a key bit of form for this given six of these ran in the race and the pick of those could be AWAY HE GOES. He seems a better horse with a run under his belt so should improve beyond several of those in that race (he doesn't have to improve much to beat Sonnyboyliston on these terms). He’s completely unexposed as a stayer, ran a career best last time out, will enjoy the big field scenario and he’s run well on fast and soft ground so for those of us having an early bet on the race he’s a safe candidate. On his last handicap run, earlier this year, he was runner up off an 8lb lower mark, beaten less than a length behind a horse that was 11lbs well in who enjoyed the run of the race more than Away He Goes, who in hindsight was also running over an inadequate trip. He’s officially 2lbs well in here but could still have more in hand than that. He's only a suggestion though in such a difficult race.

Racing Insights, 24th July 2021

Saturday’s free feature of the day is the Trainer/Jockey Combo Report. This report allows us to not only find the most in form combinations but also to identify combinations that are particularly potent at certain courses. All in one easy to consume report!

As for the free races of the day, Saturday’s choices are:

1.40 Gowran Park
3.05 Newmarket
3.15 York
3.55 Newcastle
4.15 Newmarket
8.05 Salisbury

Having the Group 2 York Stakes as a free races is pretty handy so let’s take a look at the 3.15 York. This Group 2 is run over an extended 10f and is open to 3yo+. There are five runners set to go to post.

With a small field there is always a chance of a false gallop. This distance at York is a pretty fair one in terms of pace bias but the individual pace make up of the race is still going to be an important factor.

Montatham isn’t an out and front runner but he’s the closest thing we’ve got to one here. This race isn’t really in line with how the horse has been campaigned to date and given the ownership it looks highly likely his presence in this field is as a pacemaker for stablemate Mohaafeth. If that’s the case this should be run at an even tempo and given the small field no runner should be too poorly placed anyway – hold up performers tend to be more inconvenienced when held up off slow gallops in big fields compared than small fields because they have more ground to make up.

Now it’s time to check out the chances of each of the runners.

Armory

The highest rated runner in the field and still highest rated even if you make adjustments for the fact he carries a 3lb Group 2 penalty in this. He’s pretty consistent and although most of his form is away from fast ground he has two solid efforts on good to firm in Group 1 company so the ground should hold no fears.

His record in Group 1 company reads 2344323 so he’s clearly only just shy of the very top level and even with a penalty it will probably take a Group 1 performance to beat him. He’s used to racing in small fields which is a bonus, his last two wins came in fields of 4 and 5 respectively and a 1.5 length defeat at the hands of Love in the Prince Of Wales Stakes will almost certainly look very good form about twenty minutes after this race, if it doesn’t already. You could probably argue he’s improved again this season and he clearly sets a very high standard.

Bangkok

Won the All Weather Finals Day Classic but he’s so far looked slightly better on artificial surfaces.. Fast ground and this distance seems his preference on turf and he ran well in 2nd over 9f here at York at Group 3 level behind Zaaki a couple of years ago. He was probably a little out of sorts during last year’s turf campaign and although beaten 6 lengths by Armory at Chester he can be expected to get closer this time as he’s 3lb better off and faster ground should be in his favour too. It’s very unlikely he’ll improve enough to push Armory in this but he could get within just a few lengths of him which could be good enough to grab third maybe.

Juan Elcano

Improved from a wind op when landing the Wolferton Stakes at Ascot last month and connections will surely look to ride him relatively patiently again, his best form does seem to have come when he's avoided front running or racing prominently. He ran on well from off the pace in the Dante Stakes here last year on ground that was probably softer than ideal so he has some decent course form.

He’s pretty unexposed in general but is especially unexposed on fast ground over 10f. You’d have to think Armory would have been able to win the Wolferton Stakes by even further had he gone for that (ignoring the fact that Armory would have carried a big penalty) so although he only has 2 lbs to find with Armory on these terms he does still need to improve again and there is a suspicion he might be better in a bigger field.

Montatham

A creditable performer in his own right but he’s listed class at best on all known form, might be better with a little cut in the ground, looks better at a mile and is probably going to be used as a pacemaker. If all of these run to form he’ll finish last.

Mohaafeth

The real potential star in the field and he’s clearly extremely well thought of when you see the odds he has been winning at this season. He’s still only raced against his own generation so how much is his form actually worth?

He beat Secret Protector by 5 lengths in a listed race at Newmarket in May but then only beat that same horse by 2 lengths in the Hampton Course Stakes at Royal Ascot last month. Mohaafeth’s victory in that most recent run was quite visually impressive but there are some question marks over that form. The 4th was beaten a similar distance at the same level next time out whilst the 5th dropped to listed class and also got no closer to winning.

It's not Mohaafeth’s fault he hasn’t been beating better horses, you can only beat what’s put in front of you, and he does seem to have quite the engine on him. However that wasn’t a group 1 performance last time out and he might need near that to beat Armory here so he’s probably not one to take short prices about. He does get 9lbs weight for age which is a massive help at this time of year and that’s the main thing attracting me to him.

Summary

Is Mohaafeth as good as many think? He might well be and conditions should suit but even with the weight for age he’s a skinny price on what he’s done so far. Armory has his limitations but he’s a really solid yardstick in this and he probably deserves to be joint favourite at the very least. Getting involved at short prices doesn’t make loads of appeal but from this race at the prices it is Armory who makes slightly more appeal.

Juan Elcano and Bangkok are likely to battle it out for third place.

Sky Bet Dash Preview: Lightly Raced Streamline Looks Value Play

A top day of racing on Saturday and I’m spoiled for choice with choosing which live race to cover. From a betting perspective it’s the big field handicaps that grab my attention which makes it a choice between York’s Sky Bet Dash and Ascot’s International Stakes. I’ll probably be having a stronger wager in the latter but Ascot are due thunderstorms on Saturday so it’s going to be a waiting game to see how the ground turns out. York is set to be dry according to early forecasts so previewing the Sky Bet Dash should be a bit more straight forward at this stage.

The race is due off at 2.40 and unless the weather forecast changes it is set to be run on fast ground.

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 pretty good sample size here and the data suggests an edge towards those drawn lower. The win data is pretty evenly matched but the place percentages favour low heavily, followed by middle and then high. This is backed up with the PRB data, low draws having a PRB of 0.53, middle draws 0.49 and high draws 0.48.

When you watch the sprints at York the winners nearly always seem to finish in the middle of the track so it seems slightly surprising that middle draws don’t come out best. If anything more runners seem to race along the near side rail (high) than the far side rail (low) so again it’s a bit surprising low numbers seem to outperform high by so much.

Perhaps the individual stall data can shed more light on this.

Ignoring stall 21, which has only been used once, the top four individual stalls as far as PRB are concerned are 2, 6, 4 and 3 in that order. Some of the higher stalls have performed well but the worst five stalls individually using PRB as the metric are 9 or higher which certainly suggests lower is better overall.

Determining a draw advantage isn’t just about showing that some stalls perform better than others, how much better they are is the really important aspect. Looking at the PRB3 figures the majority of the lower to middle stalls are around 0.53 and the majority of the middle to higher stalls are around 0.49 so whilst it looks a bit of an advantage to be lower it’s clearly not a huge disadvantage to be amongst the higher stalls.

Pace

I’m fairly certain we’ll some some strong data here.

Anyone who bets fairly regularly on the York straight track will know it favours speed. More winners than any other run style come from the rear but they provide a much bigger sample. In terms of win percentages, a big looking 11.54% of early leaders triumph compared to 4.59% for prominent, 4.68% for mid division and 5.24% for held up. That’s a big advantage for front runners as far as winning is concerned, but is it the same for place percentages?

Once again the top place percentage is with front runners (34.62%) whilst prominent racers have a 21.62% place strike rate. It’s 18.3% for mid division and 20.27% for held up. The main difference between the data seems to be mid division is second best for win purposes but worst of all for place bets. The figures are closely matched though and it does look as though the front is the place to be where possible with prominent a bit of an advantage over the remaining run styles but perhaps not as advantaged other them as expected. I certainly thought prominent which be far more favoured than held up.

Sky Bet Handicap Pace Map

So which of these are most likely to lead early on?

There are four main pace angles in this, spread fairly nicely across the track. The low pace should come from Giogiobbo and Manigordo with central pace provided by Muscika and high pace from Flying Pursuit.

There seems to be a lack of prominent racers with Streamline, Admirality and Blind Beggar likely to track the above mentioned quartet.

The remaining runners look as though they’ll be played fairly late.

Draw and Pace Combination

I’ve mentioned before how much I value this part of the draw data in Geegeez Gold, it gives an extra layer of insight into draw and pace, especially when there are strong draw or pace biases.

A real standout advantage for those who make the running from a middle draw. That’s a big tick for Muscika who just happened to win this last year.

The worst place to be is mid division from a middle draw, that would be the area where you are most likely to find yourself surrounded by rivals with nowhere to go so that makes perfect sense.

If you are drawn low you are generally best off being close to the pace and performance tails off very slightly the further back in the field you are. Those drawn high see less fluctuations in performance based on run style.

The Runners

Here are the main contenders, in early odds order.

Mondammej

He's run in some tough handicaps this season, often well fancied, but has been beaten on his last six starts, placing in four of those. His worst performances came at Chester on good to soft and York on soft, both over 5f, and this will be a very different test over the extra furlong on much better ground.

He is running out of excuses though. The ground will have been against him several times and at Newcastle when runner up to the progressive Ejtilaab he did best of those held up and best of those in the centre of the track. Last time out seemed to be as good as he is but to be fair he was only beaten half a length and the ground might still have been a little softer than ideal. He stayed on as though another furlong will suit and we may see Significantly and/or Tis Marvellous frank that form on Friday afternoon.

He ran well here in May on good ground, with the 5f looking inadequate and overall he looks very likely to run his race and run well. This could be last chance saloon for backers though if he doesn't get his head in front.

Giogiobbo

Rated 103 when he came to England two and a half years ago but after a winless two seasons he dropped to a mark of 67. He’s taken full advantage of that this season winning all three starts (all at Doncaster) and although he’s never run here at York, his front running style will be ideally suited to this venue.

He’s still 'only' gone up 11lbs this season for his three wins which is reasonable, putting him on a mark of 78. It’s a complete stretch to suggest he’s still got the best part of 20lbs in hand given his rating two years ago as he’s an 8yo now but he could have a bit more left in the tank. This is a much tougher race than those he’s contested this season though.

Golden Apollo

Having his 14th run here on Saturday. He generally runs well here but often finishes just outside of the places. He’s run into form in his last couple of starts, a little unlucky not to grab a win in either.

He was 2nd in this race last year off a 3lb higher mark, 4th two years ago off a 2lb higher mark and 2nd off a 6lb higher mark three years ago. Three of his four places here have come in this race, the other coming when winning the hot 3yo handicap run in June the previous year. This course and distance, at this time of year, clearly suit him. In fact 11 of his last 13 places have come in either June, July or August so he clearly just takes a little warming up each season.

Music Society

Not the easiest to win with (only one win in the past two seasons) but did get his head in front at Pontefract this season and is generally consistent. He was 7th in this last season off a 3lb lower mark but goes into the race in better form this season having been beaten just a nose in the Scottish Stewards’ Cup last time out at Hamilton. He’s possibly slightly better with an uphill finish though and he did flop here just a couple of weeks ago.

Flying Pursuit

Won this in 2017 and 2018 and was 5th in 2019, all with plenty of cut in the ground. He hasn’t even managed to place on ground that was good or better since 2017. He’s presumably been entered in the hope of thunderstorms but as things stand he looks far more likely to be scratched than to get near the places.

Gulliver

Goes well here, in fact all four of his turf wins have come on the Knavesmire. He has won over course and distance on fast ground but that was in 2019 and he seems better with cut in the ground these days – his last two wins here came on soft ground in October. He looked far too slow here in May in a similar race on good to soft off a 2lb higher mark and is likely to be making up late ground at best here. One to watch out for here in October chasing the hat trick (assuming soft ground at that meeting).

Streamline

Lightly raced 4yo who has mostly featured on the all weather but he won on debut on turf and ran to a fair level here as a 2yo in a listed race, ticking the important course form box. His only poor run came at Kempton in March and he subsequently missed three months of action but made a satisfactory return behind Mondammej and he’s now 5lbs better off for a length defeat.

Blind Beggar

The sole 3yo in the line up and ran well in the big 3yo handicap over course and distance last month, finishing a better than the bare result 6th on fast ground. His best form before that had come on softer ground and it’s entirely possible he’ll prove even better when there is a bit more dig. A reproduction of that 6th could see him go close here though. The 2nd and 7th have both won since and he was ridden with more restraint that day than is normally the case so could improve with a more prominent ride.

Only 10th last time at Newmarket but that was also on fast ground in a hot 3yo handicap and he wasn’t beaten much further than at York. Looks capable of running well but might need rain before he can win a race of this nature.

Venturous

Consistently running well but finishing just outside of the places at the moment, a strong sign that he probably isn’t well handicapped. He’s not far off his career high turf mark and is 12lbs higher than his last turf win. Most his wins are at 5f but an easy 6f is within his range. He stayed on from a poor position here in May and has run several good races here but he’ll do well to get into the places in this for all he shouldn’t run at all badly.

George Bowen

Not always the most consistent with slow starts often hampering his chances and this isn’t a course where you want to forfeit ground early. He did win a similar race to this by 6 lengths here in 2017 but he’s never gone close to matching that sort of form here again, managing no better than 5th in seven course and distance runs since. Capable on his day but not one to put too much faith in.

Muscika

Last year’s winner is ideally drawn to attack in the middle here and is only 1lb higher than when taking this twelve months ago. He’s been inconsistent this season but got within a neck of beating Ejtilaab (won next time out) at Epsom in June off a 1lb higher mark and although 7th of 8 last time out, he was only beaten 2 lengths off a 2lb higher mark.

The case for a good run possibly relies on a switch in headgear and a return to this venue. He wore blinkers when winning this year but wasn’t in as good form in the two runs either side of that in the same headgear. There is no obvious correlation between what headgear works for Muscika and it’s probably just that he’s quite an inconsistent horse. He has been more consistent here though producing form figures of 221010 on his last six runs at York.

Admirality

Difficult to win with and has struggled for much consistency this season. Fast ground suits well and he's run well here before but he’s probably better over 7f and even at his best he tends to finish as the runner up – he’s finished 2nd on six occasions since his last victory.

Manigordo

Returned to form last time out at Redcar (2nd) after a couple of lesser displays and his run style is suited to this course for all he has run poorly twice here this season in two attempts. The race he ran well in on Sunday was a much lesser event than this but he did push a potentially very well handicapped runner close.

This might be a bit too hot and his course form is a worry, for all it might just have been a couple of off days (ran just as poorly at Thirsk last month having won there in April).

Mokaatil

Surprise Epsom Dash winner and although he has run many times over 6f his best form seems to come at the minimum trip. Has seemed badly handicapped since winning at Epsom and his best chance of defying this sort of mark may come at that venue again, he’s two from three there.

Typhoon Ten

A bit unlucky to not get his head in front this year given he’s been beaten both a nose and a short head. His sole turf win came off a 2lb lower mark at Windsor and he doesn’t look to have the form to land a race this competitive.

Lahore

Won here over 5f last year off a 1lb higher mark and ran okay in the Ayr Gold Cup last season when 6th off a 4lb higher mark. His run style does leave him with plenty to do here but he has a fair course record, although not quite running up to his mark last time out in listed company here. Capable of outrunning his odds but would need to bounce back to his best to be in the shake up.

The Verdict

An amazingly difficult puzzle to figure out and it’s much easier to list the runners that I think are least likely to place than to finish in the money. For the record they are Music Society, Flying Pursuit, Gulliver, Venturous, George Bowen, Admirality, Manigordo, Mokaatil, Typhoon Ten and Lahore.

The above is based on good to firm ground. I’m not expecting the ground to soften but if it did get really testing Gulliver could be the one, whilst on good or softer I’d be far keener on Blind Beggar than on good to firm. If you can get as many as six places in this I wouldn’t at all be opposed to backing Blind Beggar each way, even on fast ground, but I think he’ll struggle to win this on good to firm so he only makes so much appeal.

I can’t rule out Giogiobbo but this is a big step up and all his form this season is at Doncaster - this could just be too tough for him.

As long as the ground stays fast, Blind Beggar is reluctantly passed over for win purposes leaving the shortlist as Mondammej, Golden Apollo, Streamline and Muscika.

Golden Apollo has a great record in this race, is in form and well handicapped. It all seems a bit too obvious doesn’t it? He’s probably at his best at this time of year and in big fields. He’s maybe drawn a little higher than absolutely ideal but looks guaranteed to run a big race. My feeling is he’ll find one or two too good again but he should be a safe each way bet once again.

Muscika would probably win this if able to reproduce Epsom form from last month but he’s just too inconsistent. He’s not really an each way proposition given that inconsistency, even at 16/1, but given his run style, draw and course record he's worth a win only saver whatever you fancy to win this.

That leaves Mondammej and Streamline. Mondammej is another that looks nailed on to run his race in what are probably pretty much ideal conditions (has raced on softer ground most of this season, and over shorter) but he’s very well found in the market and he’s drawn very wide in 15. If Flying Pursuit is pulled out because of the ground he’ll lose a pacemaker on his side and it could be another case of close but no cigar.

At around twice the price I’d rather side with STREAMLINE. He’s handicapped to beat Mondammej on their recent meeting and although most of his form is on artificial surfaces he has run to a good level on turf and has even placed in listed company here at York. He races far more prominently than Mondammej so is less of a hostage to fortune. He too is drawn a bit higher than ideal but he’ll go forward so may find it easier to get a better, more central position and is likely to be less reliant on the other pace around him to take him into the race.

John Smith’s Cup 2021 Preview: Take Pride To Emerge On Top

Plenty of very competitive races to get stuck into on ‘Super Saturday’ but the main race of interest is surely the John Smith’s Cup at York (4.05pm). This is one of my favourite races of the season and it’s often won by a horse capable of mixing it at Group level.

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 massive field of 22 set to go to post for this one, one of the biggest fields you’ll see go around a bend all season, so is there a draw bias?

According to the data above, there isn’t much between low, middle and high. Middle draws have produced the most winners (13) whilst there is little between low and high from a win perspective (9 and 10 respectively).

There isn't much between the place percentage data either. Middle draws once again have a very slight edge with a 20% place strike rate but low comes in at 21.94% with high draws not far behind at 20.41%.

The PRB data also backs up the suggestion that there isn’t much of a draw bias with low draws producing a PRB of 0.50, middle draws at 0.51 and high draws 0.49.

Looking at the individual stall data, there isn’t a huge amount between a lot of the stalls again. The main thing that stands out is the extremely high stalls tend to perform relatively poorly but there is very limited data for these. Stalls 17, 18 and 19 do have a decent sample size and they are amongst the poorer stalls for place percentage and PRB but stall 17 has won this twice on ground that is good or softer and stall 22 has won before on faster ground.

Given the data I’d prefer to be drawn between 3 and 16 inclusive but very high draws look a slight disadvantage rather than a reason to rule out a runner.

Pace

York tends to be a pace track over sprint distances but is it fairer over this extended 10f?

This course and distance looks pretty fair from a pace perspective on easier ground. Not many winners manage to make all, with a relatively poor win percentage of 4.17% but the place percentage doesn’t perform too badly at 18.75%, even if it is statistically the least successful run style for place purposes too.

The best win percentage belongs to prominent, followed by held up whilst the place percentages suggest mid division is very slightly favoured over prominent. The place percentage backs up the win percentage data in front runners doing least best and hold ups doing next least best but there is very little in the figures suggesting you shouldn’t be put off any run style unless the pace map shows an extreme likely pace outcome.

John Smith’s Cup Pace Map

This is the pace map for the 2021 John Smith’s Cup, based on each runner’s last two runs.

Very interesting that there is a ton of likely early pace in this contest. A huge eight of these runners led early last time out and three of them have led early on at least their last two starts. There is so much pace that you’d probably think twice about even backing anything that races prominently as they could be too close to a pace collapse.

Judging by the likely pace in this race, preference would be for runners who should be held up in mid division or in the rear.

Draw and Pace Combination

One more data view before we look at the runners.

This heat map shows the likely best run styles for each draw in this race. Historically higher drawn front runners have performed better than their lower drawn counterparts whereas the best draw for prominent racers has been low.

We are probably more interested in the best draws for mid division and held up given the likely strong pace and the data from previous races suggests a middle draw is slightly preferred for both of those run styles. There is very little between low and high draws for the more patiently ridden runners.

The Runners

Here are the main contenders for this year’s John Smith’s Cup, in early odds order.

Astro King

Progressive this season in top handicaps and was runner up in the Royal Hunt Cup on his latest start. He’s gone up 4lbs for that run but gets to run off the same mark here so is 4lbs well in. Connections have often said he’ll be better going back up in trip (raced exclusively at a mile this season but ran over 10f last year) and several of his runs back that up but the ground has to be a slight question mark here. His poorest run to date came on soft ground over this trip and any rain that falls on Saturday is likely to decrease his chances of winning. He’d have been a solid contender on fast ground but he’s opposable on good to soft or worse.

Surrey Pride

Boasts rock solid claims after a course and distance win here in May. He won pretty comfortably that day, looking to have improved since a successful 3yo campaign, and a 6lb rise surely underestimates him given how that form has worked out. The 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th have all won since which is extremely hot form and I’m a big fan of course form when betting at York, especially when there is some cut in the ground.

One common misconception in racing is that horses that don’t want fast ground automatically want soft ground and vice versa. Surrey Pride is one of those horses that doesn’t want extremes of going. He finished 4th on his only run on good to firm, his form on soft or heavy ground reads 5557 and his form on good or good to soft reads 61111, with the only defeat coming on debut (in a maiden that worked out well). If the ground doesn’t soften beyond good to soft on Saturday (there is a bit of rain forecast) he’s the one to beat. The one question mark is being drawn in the highest stall. It’s probably a disadvantage, but not a massive one and not one that hasn’t been overcome before (Farraaj won from stall 22 in 2014).

Aaddeey

I gave this horse a good write up for the Old Newton Cup on Saturday only for the ground to soften and for him to be withdrawn. It’s unlikely the ground is going to be perfect here and the drop in trip has to be considered a pretty big negative. He did run well over 10f at Newbury on seasonal debut in what was a warm race but he’s 15lbs higher here courtesy of improving for running over 12f. A strong pace will help him but he’s probably going to get 14f this season and on ground that is softer than ideal he’s worth taking on.

Dawaam

Owen Burrows’ runner is four from five on the all weather but yet to reach the places in three efforts on turf. You couldn’t say he doesn’t go on turf as he was only beaten 5 lengths in the Wolferton at Royal Ascot last time and he’s technically 8lbs well in here. However he did fail to beat a rival home on his only run on good to soft ground and that came off a lower mark than this so he’s a bit of a punt in this and surprisingly short in the betting, the fact that he’s 8lbs well in probably largely determining that.

Ascension

Happiest when the mud is flying so his run on fast ground in the Royal Hunt Cup last time out is easily forgiven. He was a comfortable winner before that on good to soft ground at Newbury in a fair handicap but probably flattered by running on the favoured near side rail on that occasion and not necessarily the best runner in that race. This is his first run over further than a mile and he hasn’t looked to be crying out for this test to date but his sire has winners at all trips and the dam stayed 10f so there are possibilities.

Fishable

A Ripon specialist (form figures there of 1141) but does have York form too. He was runner up over course and distance last season on soft ground and then although only 8th in first time cheekpieces here behind Surrey Pride in May, he missed the break by about 5 lengths that day and was badly squeezed up when in the process of running a big race. He has gone up 3lbs since for winning again at Ripon.

He looks to have a major form chance but he did make all last time and trying those same tactics here would probably be a mistake. He has also been held up plenty of times though and it might just be a case of connections choosing to ride him more prominently when he goes to Ripon, tactics that are suited to that course. Stall 18 is probably slightly higher than ideal but not the end of the world.

Al Zaraqaan

Progressive on the all weather over the winter but hasn’t run to the same level on any going type since on turf. He did run better on turf at Group 2 level on fast ground than he did on soft ground in a listed race but he’s not going to get fast turf here and he’s yet to prove he’s capable of winning a big handicap off a mark of 107 on turf. He does have further progression left in him though.

Good Birthday

Won the Zetland Gold Cup at Redcar this season and it’s a race that has worked out very well. He was well placed that day though and probably not the best horse in the race and he didn’t back it up next time out at Newmarket when well beaten. The ground might have been more to blame that day than a 4lb rise and easier ground will undoubtedly suit more here. He’s been well beaten in two runs at York and isn’t always the most reliable so although he’s capable of running well if on a going day, others look better handicapped.

Nicholas T

Not many horses win the Northumberland Plate before coming here but he does have plenty of form over this trip and is on a roll having put together back to back wins. He’s taken his form to a new level this season over trips further than this and it’s likely he could struggle off a career high mark now.

Bright Start

Probably been better on all weather surfaces to date and his only win came on dirt in Meydan over the winter. He has run well on a variety of going types on turf and can’t be completely ruled out having finished a nose runner up to a progressive type last time out but his turf form does leave him needing to step up and he could be ridden too close to the pace here.

Johnny Drama

Took his form to a new level over the winter on all weather surfaces and if he translates that improvement back to turf he’s well handicapped considering his turf mark is 9lbs lower than his all weather mark. He has been runner up over course and distance off this sort of mark twice so he’s not completely ruled out even if he hasn’t improved. His turf form last season requires a step up though and he could be a bit too close to the early gallop for comfort here.

Lucander

An interesting one at the price. He won over course and distance last season on soft ground which gives him a 100% record at York from two runs. He was runner up in last season’s Cambridgeshire off a 1lb lower mark on good ground and returned in good form this season, finishing 2nd at Newmarket behind an enterprisingly ridden rival. The third in that race has won since. Only beat one home last time in the Royal Hunt Cup but a mile on fast ground wouldn’t have suited. He’s often held up in mid division which should be perfect from his middle draw and the easier ground and return to York should help him improve from a poor effort last time out.

Data Protection

Tends to run his best races at Newmarket or Epsom and was well below par when favourite on his only try at York. Likely to help set a strong pace and has work to do off a career high mark.

Cockalorum

In the form of his life at the moment although this is a big step up from the class 4 handicaps he’s been winning. He made all for both recent wins too and those tactics are unlikely to see him to best effect here.

Dark Pine

Proved his recent improvement wasn’t just down to all weather surfaces when winning at Chester before finding heavy ground over further at Royal Ascot too much. Not handicapped out of this off 4lb higher and could go well at a price but obviously needs to improve again in this company.

Hartswood

Has a bit of a reputation as a York specialist despite just the one win here, having also filled the places in several top handicaps here. Won last time out when getting the run of the race at Newcastle and still has a chance of landing a decent race at this course off his new mark. He’s only tried this distance once and didn’t seem to stay so would have made much more appeal in the mile handicap earlier in the card but it will be interesting to see how he takes to this trip here at York.

Victory Chime

Had limitations exposed last time out at listed level and has generally performed best at front runner friendly tracks. Much more competition for the lead here and probably not well enough handicapped.

Winter Reprise

Needs to step up massively on what he’s done this season and seems very reliant on leading early, which will almost certainly compromise his chance here.

Palavecino

Hasn’t quite matched his all weather form on turf despite not having a split mark and it’s a slight worry his best turf form seems to have come at Chester. Another that could be too close to the early gallop and doesn’t look well enough handicapped.

What’s The Story

Has a good record at York and runs in this for the fourth consecutive year. This trip seems to stretch him a little and his best chance of a win off this mark would be on fast ground over a mile here.

Sky Defender

Inconsistent and difficult to win with but has shown he can run well off this sort of mark and has strong course and distance form. Probably too reliant on getting an easy lead though which he won’t get here and needs to bounce back from a poor run.

Strait Of Hormuz

Still lightly raced and better than the bare result in both runs this season. He’s only 3lbs higher than when winning a decent handicap at Doncaster last season over this trip and didn’t seemingly stay further on his next two runs. He dropped back to this trip last time out at Epsom and although beaten 11.5 lengthsit was a day of exaggerated winning distances and Strait Of Hormuz met trouble in running and had to be snatched up. He does have form on softish ground but he’s probably better on good or better, which means the ground has probably gone slightly against him here. He’s worth watching out for on better ground though and should outrun his odds, especially if less rain falls on Saturday than is forecast.

The Verdict

A fair few of those near the head of the betting look worth taking on for reasons outlined above and although Strait Of Hormuz is very likely to outrun his odds, especially if the course doesn’t catch any more showers, he probably needs even faster ground to go close in a race of this nature.

I’m so much more confident betting on course form at York and Lucander, Fishable and Surrey Pride all have strong course and distance form to their names. The fact that Lucander is unbeaten in two runs here makes him really interesting and there are obvious reasons for him to bounce back here from a poor run but he would have appealed slightly more if he’d run just a bit better at Ascot last time. He’s still massively overpriced and worth covering though, especially with Laura Pearson riding and claiming 5lbs.

Fishable may not have won here but he’s unlucky to not have placed in both course and distance starts and will find conditions perfect here. If he’d got a clear run behind Surrey Pride last time he’d probably have finished 3rd or 4th and would be going into this a shorter price. He’s been in good form all season, is consistent and after just ten runs should still be improving a little. The only slight worry with him is being ridden too close to the pace but he’s been held up in all three visits to York (didn’t have much choice last time admittedly after missing the break).

Assuming Saturday's rain isn't enough to send the ground back to soft though SURREY PRIDE looks the most likely to go well. We’re yet to see how far he can go on good/good to soft ground and he’s proven over course and distance with his last race working out well. He’s been held back for this since and his run style is ideally suited to a course like this where he can make up ground on the bridle. The draw isn’t ideal but his run style should be.