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Great St Wilfrid 2021 Preview and Tips: Course Specialist Can Strike Again

Some very, very good racing to look forward to at York next week but for now we must tackle one of the live contests on ITV this weekend. The big field races are largely coming at Ripon in the Great St Wilfrid and also the consolation race. Both races are maximum 20 runner fields and it’s the big one itself that looks slightly more interesting, at 3.10pm.

Amazingly, for once we have a clear weather forecast meaning we know what ground to expect. It’s good at the moment and usually well watered so might not get much faster before the off.

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I think we are going to see some quite strong biases for this one…

Draw

Is it going to be low, middle or high for this big sprint handicap?

There is only a relatively small sample size here but I’m keen to keep the filters as they are for this. On softer ground there can be much more of a bias towards the higher drawn horses so that could skew the data for likely going conditions on Saturday. I also don’t want to reduce the number of runners as the fewer runners there are, the further the lower numbers will be from the far side rail.

So on to the data sample we are presented with. More winners come from the middle but we’re not really concerned about the winners here as it’s a small sample. The place data suggests Low and middle have the edge (very little in it) but the PRB data, which makes the most of our small sample as every runner contributes to this metric, has low out in front at 0.54 with middle and high both slightly disadvantaged at 0.48.

So how can low draws be best if the last five winners of this race have been drawn 17, 15, 19,10 and 13 and the last five winners of the consolation race have been drawn 18, 14, 20, 20 and 16? That looks like a real bias AGAINST the low draws.

Winners are a small sample but it looks like a high draw is best from this more recent data. Even if you look at the sample of races used above but only from 2016 the PRBs for low and high are still both the same (0.52).

When the data doesn’t quite make sense it’s best to watch some course and distance races back. The last time this race was run on good ground was 2018 and in the consolation race they all came stands’ side (high) with stall 14 winning on the rail and stall 1 finishing runner up despite tracking across the course. In the main race they split into two groups and although stall 19 was successful (once again on the near side rail), the 2nd and 3rd were drawn 7 and 4 and raced on the far side.

The previous year this meeting was also run on good ground. In the consolation they split into two groups with stall 20 winning on the rail (yet again), pulling clear with stall 17 and after that pair it was pretty even between the two sides. In the main event that year they split into two groups and the winner was stall 10, who went far side, but there was again very little between the two groups.

So what my eyes are telling me, admittedly from a small (but very relevant) sample, is that they’ll probably split into two groups, being bang on the near side (high) rail usually leads to a strong performance and if they do split into two groups there can often be very little between the two sides.

Based on what I’ve seen I’m expecting the individual stall data to show that very high draws do well, very low draws do pretty well and the middle performs less well.

The four best individual stalls for PRB are 17, 4, 7 and 18. That means two of the highest four stalls are in the top four best stalls. Stall 20 performs less well for PRB but it’s the most successful stall for win percentage with 2 winners from just 8 runners. The most wins have come from stall 4.

Most of those stalls mentioned above were pretty high or pretty low and the PRB3 line graph below the table shows a spike in performance amongst the highest few stalls and also a strong performance from the lowest six stalls.

Lots to weigh up there but it seems the near side (high numbers) are more likely to be advantaged than far side (low numbers) but in all probability there will be very little between the two sides. Being drawn nearer to either rail looks an advantage but nothing can be 100% ruled in or out solely because of the draw.

Pace

Ripon is often a front runner’s track, will that be reflected in the data?

I’m happier to relax the filters a little for pace compared to draw in order to get more data and we see a pretty strong bias here.

A huge 30 of the 36 winners have been front runners or prominent racers. Prominent racers perform best of all for win purposes but front runners have the best place percentage (33.78%) compared to prominent (27.04%). Once again returns for those more patiently ridden drop quite dramatically with a place percentage of 15.31% for mid division and 14.69% for held up.

I said I wouldn’t completely rule anything out because of the draw but I would be very reluctant to back anything that isn’t going to be close to the pace in this. Generally speaking, in 16+ runner sprint handicaps, there will be plenty of pace angles but the pace is still holding up well here.

Great St Wilfrid Handicap Pace Map

Plenty of pace angles in this so they could go fairly hard early on and many could be well placed. Given the amount of pace angles it could pay to be handy rather than an out and out front runner.

The quickest of these early on could be Mr Wagyu who has been hugely progressive this season. He’s all pace and should lead overall early. He’s drawn in the middle though so you can’t be sure which side he will go.

Pace and Draw Combination

With some strong pace biases on show and draw biases in the mix too the draw and pace combination heat map should make for interesting reading.

Slightly surprisingly the best pace and draw combination is leading but leading from the middle. This is perhaps the best way to get a good early position from what is probably not a good draw in most cases.

Middle drawn, patiently ridden runners do very poorly and it seems it’s easier to make up ground when drawn low rather than high. It’s difficult to pinpoint why that might be but it often seems that slightly more runners go near side (high) than far side (low) when the fields split. This would mean hold up performers could meet more traffic on the near side (high) than the far side (low) giving lower drawn hold ups a clearer run more often than not.

The Runners

Here are the runners for the 2021 Great St Wilfrid Handicap, in early odds order.

Staxton

Made all on the near side rail in this last year on good to soft ground. He’s won his last three visits to this venue, including on good to firm in April, and his overall form figures here read 235111. When 5th he was still 2nd in his group. This year he is drawn in stall 8 which might be a little more central than ideal.

He clearly goes very well at this venue, it’s just a question of handicap mark and current form. He followed up his last course and distance win with a couple of lacklustre runs but then he was 4th, not getting a clear run, in a very strong renewal of the Scottish Stewards’ Cup (winner won the Goodwood Stewards’ Cup, 3rd won the consolation race, runner up was beaten a short head next time in a hot York handicap). He’s now 1lb lower than that effort and 1lb higher than his last win here so he’s clearly very feasibly handicapped. He ran just about okay in the Stewards’ Cup consolation race last time out in soft ground, that run was largely in line with most of his recent soft ground form.

He’s clearly got a lot going for him, his draw is probably the biggest negative but it can certainly be overcome.

Mr Wagyu

He was 7 lengths ahead of Staxton at Goodwood when winning the Stewards’ consolation race but he was only half a length ahead in the Scottish Stewards’ Cup and Staxton is now a full 12lbs better off. He’s got a great run style for this course but has run poorly here on his last three visits, to counter that though he won his previous two runs here before that so he clearly handles the course. The suspicion is he is going to struggle to confirm form with Staxton here with this course playing to that rival’s strengths perfectly.

Soul Seeker

He's won his last two races but both of those runs, and his two other wins, came at 5f. He’s quite tactically versatile and you couldn’t be too sure how he’ll be ridden but with the step up in distance in mind he could be ridden a little more patiently than usual and that might not suit this course as well. He’s capable of further progress but probably at the minimum trip.

Music Society

He's been progressing nicely and he was beaten just a nose in the hot Scottish Stewards’ Cup but he’s now 8lbs higher here. He’s only 4lbs higher than when beaten a short head at York and isn’t completely handicapped out of this but the biggest problem could be his run style. He likes to be held up and that’s probably why he’s without a win in three attempts here.

Lampang

Certainly not the most consistent and added a slow start to his resume last time out in the Stewards’ Cup (ran okay given his start). He’s tactically versatile when he breaks on terms and did win easily on his only visit here (odds on in a novice) but he’s not really reliable enough to justify his place in the market. He is three from four on turf away from soft ground though and was found to be coughing on his one flop so is potentially interesting on that basis.

Lincoln Park

Another likely pace angle, his last three turf wins have all come at Chester and he seems ideally suited to both that course and ground with plenty of cut in it. He shouldn’t get his ground, has been beaten in all twelve runs when rated 86 or higher (rated 88) here and looks a bit too short.

Boardman

Won three races with ease earlier this season but those wins came at 7f and he’s paid for that with his handicap mark. He’s probably looked more out of form than in the grip of the handicapper on his last two runs which is quite worrying and the drop back in trip isn’t guaranteed to suit, certainly at this course where his run style won’t be favoured.

Embour

He's certainly competitive from this kind of mark as he won off a 3lb higher mark on seasonal debut. He also ran well enough last time out when only beaten just over a length, not suited by a speed test over a furlong shorter at Musselburgh. His prominent racing style should suit this course (never run here before) but all his wins have come in far less competitive races than this and he’ll likely be vulnerable in this company, for all he could run well enough. Minor places might be a good result for him.

Gale Force Maya

Yet another who is often near the early pace and she was beaten just half a length here last time out, albeit in much easier race than this. She’s looked in the grip of the handicapper since winning at Doncaster in April, she’s been beaten off this mark of 92 in all five runs since.

Intrinsic Bond

Went backwards in the spring after a promising seasonal debut but everything came together when winning easily at Catterick two starts ago. Proved this sort of mark isn’t beyond him when beaten just a neck here last time (just ahead of Gale Force Maya), not seen to best effect held up. He made the running when winning at Catterick and a return to more forceful tactics would be a big help here but he might want a little bit of cut in the ground to be very competitive at this level.

Mokaatil

A three time winner this season and still 14lbs lower than his career high mark. He had nothing in hand last time out though and all his wins this season have been at this minimum distance and he’ll likely prove vulnerable back up at 6f.

Mr Lupton

A very in and out sort, summed up by winning a competitive handicap at York three runs ago (often runs well there) followed by barely beating a rival in two starts since. Difficult to catch right and won’t be as well suited by this venue as many others.

Soldier’s Minute

Goes very well at Kempton and York and no reason why this course shouldn’t suit. He’s still 2lbs above his last winning turf mark despite a losing run of 13 on the surface. He’s been in poor form so far this season and is perhaps being laid out for the Ayr Gold Cup if anything (has run well in defeat in the last two renewals).

Golden Apollo

Everything looked in place for a big run at York two starts ago so it was disappointing he could only manage a 6th behind Music Society. He followed that up with an equally disappointing 7th at Doncaster, not running terribly but still never looking like winning. He ran okay in this last year considering his run style doesn’t really suit the course and he met trouble in running but he’s going to have to improve plenty on recent showings to overcome a likely pace bias.

Abate

Disappointed at York a few starts ago but bounced back from that with two wins, both in small fields. Those wins have cost him a 10lb rise in the weights though and he was put in his place last time out off a 1lb lower mark. Runs off a career high mark and doesn’t look well enough handicapped to figure.

Brad The Brief

Needs to find improvement based on both handicap runs to date, for all the last one came a year ago. He’s paid for a heavy ground Group 3 win in France and hasn’t been in much form this year so difficult to see him bouncing back on faster ground. Another that should be up there early.

Manigordo

Sprang a shock when winning at 25/1 at Thirsk in April and has largely struggled since, although he ran a decent 2nd a month ago at Redcar. That was in a much less competitive race than this and he’s run poorly again since. He’s shown he can bounce back from poor runs but he’s inconsistent and even his best form probably leaves him with something to find here.

Justanotherbottle

He's all pace and has only ever won at shorter trips. Well enough beaten on his last two starts and will need to bounce back to form (and find extra stamina reserves) in first time blinkers.

Muscika

Talented but hard to get right. He’s run well here on several occasions in the past without winning in six attempts. Well handicapped on several pieces of form, even this season, but he should have been able to run better at York last time and he’s not one for maximum faith. Wouldn’t be a complete shock if he did run well though.

Illusionist

He hasn’t been at his best on his last three starts but he has run as though in form, he just needs much softer ground. He’s still unexposed at this trip but the ground will probably be fast enough here and he’s one to look out for when the rains return after he’s dropped a few more pounds.

The Verdict

Not many I fancy here to be honest and I’m struggling to make a case for any at bigger prices. Golden Apollo will enjoy the pace setup and has run well here before but seeing him ending his losing run here seems unlikely. He may end up doing best of the hold up horses though.

The form picks at this distance surely have to be Mr Wagyu, Music Society and Staxton. This trio were all in the first four in the hot Scottish Stewards’ Cup and whilst Mr Wagyu and Music Society have advertised that form since, and paid for it in the handicap, STAXTON finds himself running off a 1lb lower mark and should have few problems reversing that form with these two rivals, especially at ‘his’ track.

He was held up in that race, which wouldn’t suit here, but he’s been ridden prominently in every other start this season and in all runs here at Ripon so expect to see him handy here. He doesn’t need to lead, and probably doesn’t want to with all these front runners in the line up, so chasing the leaders will be optimal. He can go either side from his draw, so if the consolation race 35 minutes earlier suggests near side is the place to be he’s not committed to going far side from stall 8. We’ve seen in the past that even those on the ‘wrong’ side still often place so whichever side he goes he should have few problems placing at the very least making him a very solid each way bet, even as ‘short’ as 7/1.