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Charles Hills Has Strong Hand In Haydock Handicap

We seem to be seeing lots of small fields at the moment which aren’t making great betting contests but the 2.50pm at Haydock on Saturday, a class 2 7f handicap being shown live on ITV, has 13 entries and looks to have a nice shape about it from a betting point of view.

Remember, you can get your first 30 days with Geegeez Gold for just £1. This trial will give you access to all the tools used below.

Draw

A fairly big field, going around a bend, so let’s first take a look at the draw in this contest.

Looking initially at the low vs middle vs high data, It certainly seems as though a low draw is an advantage over middle or high. The most important data here is the PRB (Percentage of Rivals Beaten) as every single runner in every single race is producing data for us with this metric. The low draw PRB is 0.53 whereas for middle and high draws it is 0.48.

Low draws also have the best win percentage but high draws actually have the best place percentage. This is likely a slightly quirk of the fact that we have a relatively small sample size of nineteen races.

Looking at low vs middle vs high is great for an instant insight but digging into the individual stall data should tell us where a good draws starts to become a bad draw.

By sorting this table by PRB3 we are combining individual stall data with the data from each stall either side in order to avoid any data anomalies from single stalls. The fact that the ‘best’ six stalls are the lowest six stalls is pretty telling here. However we should also note that stalls 11 and 12 score well enough to suggest that whilst a lower draw (bottom six stalls) is almost certainly some advantage, a high draw isn’t the end of the world.

Pace

Pace is another crucial aspect to cover over the 7f at Haydock on decent ground.

We once again have a fairly limited data set here so place percentage is going to be most enlightening for us in giving clues about a pace bias.

The place data tells us that front runners are most likely to place here, all other things being equal, and they’ve racked up a pretty decent 31.03% place strike rate. However going all the way back to those held up, there is still a 25% place percentage for the most patiently ridden runners. With a relatively small difference in results for the most extreme types of ride it seems that this is one of the fairer courses as far as pace biases go.

Prominent racers seem to have performed relatively poorly but there is no reason why this should be the case so it’s probably just a symptom of having relatively little data.

Pace Map

With there not being much of a pace bias here (if any) the pace for this individual contest is likely to have a bigger bearing on how much of an advantage early position is. This is where the Geegeez pace map can be particularly useful and a real time saver.

Potentially two pace angles here with Gobi Sunset seemingly most likely to go forward from his fairly wide draw and Marshall Dan likely to keep on honest on the front end from an even wider draw. There isn’t an abundance of prominent runners in this but Admirality seems most likely to track the pace with Fox Champion, Dreamloper and Duesenberg (if he can get across from his very wide draw) potentially slotting in behind Admirality.

Amongst those seemingly likely to be most patiently ridden and therefore reliant on a strong pace here could be Mustarrid, Dulas, Cold Stare and Sir Maximillian.

Pace and Draw Combination

Now that we’ve checked out the pace map for this race it makes sense use one of my favourite tools from the draw tab and that’s the pace and draw combination heat map.

Not all draws and run styles are created equally, both have an effect on each other. What we can see above is that low drawn runners do extremely well from mid division and much less well when prominently ridden. That could be a positive for Firmanent and negative against Dreamloper and Fox Champion if recent riding tactics are repeated.

Those drawn near the middle seem best suited to more aggressive tactics, be it front running or going prominent. The closer they are to the pace the better and that’s good news for the Mark Johnston trained Gobi Sunset is the most likely early leader and potentially bad news from Dulas, Another Batt and Persuasion.

Higher drawn runners do well by leading or racing in mid division, with prominent tactics and to a lesser extent hold up tactics resulting in lesser performances. This would be good for Marshall Dan if he can get to the lead and is a slight concern for Cold Stare and Si Maximillian.

The Runners

Here is the full field, in early odds order, most fancied to least fancied.

Dreamloper

Consistent, lightly raced performer for Ed Walker having her first run since 5th September. The first thing to check here is how Ed Walker’s runners have been performing first time out.

In the past 30 days Ed Walker has a win strike rate of 13.89%, a place strike rate of 41.67 and a PRB of 0.59 with all his runners, suggesting he is in pretty decent form. The above shows the same sample but only those who were returning from a 60+ day break. This now shows a 11.11% win percentage, 44.44% place percentage and a PRB of 0.61. Whilst the win percentage is down, we are dealing with a sample where one more winner would have increased that percentage dramatically. The fact that the place percentage and PRB figures are slightly better for fresh runners suggests there should be no issue with backing Ed Walker seasonal debutants at the moment.

So how does her form stack up? She’s only run once over this trip in a handicap and on that occasion he was 3rd at Kempton. The winner has done nothing for the form since but the runner up did win easily on her next course and distance start and subsequently went up 10lbs. She stepped up to a mile on his next start at Ascot and beat Perfect Inch by a neck off a 6lb lower mark. The runner up had looked well handicapped heading into that contest and is now rated 10lb than she was that day but she is difficult to win with. The 3rd home won two starts later (stepped up in trip).

She’s got a likeable profile and the fast ground will be perfect whilst she’s probably not badly handicapped. It’s slightly surprising to see her back at 7f though, other than for the fact she’s sometimes keen, and this is potentially a fact finding mission to decide if she heads for the Buckingham Palace Stakes (over 7f) or the Royal Hunt Cup (over 1m), although she’ll need to win in the next month or so to get a run in either. Likely to run well but might find one or two too good over this trip.

Persuasion

Charlie Hills’ relatively lightly raced 4yo was last seen finishing 2nd in heavy ground at Leicester, having started last season in the 2000 Guineas. He hasn’t run since October but like Ed Walker, Charles Hill’s seasonal debutants have been outperforming his race fit runners in the past 30 days. In fact his runners in handicaps in the past 30 days that are coming back from 60+ day breaks have a 45.45% strike rate at the time of writing which is very impressive and those winners have all been between 11/4 and 8/1.

The runner who beat Persuasion on his last start, Tomfre, finished the season with two wins in competitive Doncaster handicaps giving Persuasion’s form a solid feel, especially with the 3rd behind Tomfre and Persuasion finishing runner up on his next run.

The question here is the ground though. He barely beat a rival home on faster ground on his first two runs last season but one of those came in the 200 Guineas so is forgiveable and the next came when returning from a three month break, presumably having had an issue. As a 2yo he coped well enough with fast ground, he won a very strong maiden on good to firm at Goodwood beating at least three rivals now rated higher than him. If he copes with the ground here he’s a big threat.

Marshall Dan

Carried last season’s consistency into this season with a 2nd at Musselburgh three weeks ago on seasonal debut. He won over course and distance in September but that was on soft ground off a 9lb lower mark. He has form on faster ground too but he has seemed to improve for slower ground over the past year or so. The winner didn’t do anything for his last time out form when running next and in these conditions he looks more likely to finish around 4th or 5th than 1st. Drawn very wide too which won’t help.

Fox Champion

He's been largely out of form for some time now, although he did run okay over 6f on the all weather last summer before reverting to type back on turf on his next starts. His chance seems to largely hinge upon a change of scenery having brought him back to form. This will be his first run for the in form Ralph Beckett and he has a pretty amazing record in the past twelve months with runners who have come from other stables.

Beckett has won with a whopping 63.64% of his runners having their first run after joining from another stable in the past year. That’s 7 wins from 11 runners and if you were to ignore runners at 33/1+ that changes to 7 wins from 9 runners. Very impressive.

He's happy at 7f on fast ground so if he was able to bounce back he would potentially be a stone well in.

Gobi Sunset

Mark Johnston’s 4yo didn’t show much last season and was duly gelded and given a five month break. That seems to have done him the world of good as his form figures since are 2122. Those runs all came on the all weather but he won twice on fast ground on turf as a 2yo.

He has plenty of pace, he went off at a furious gallop over 6f two runs ago, finding only Dirty Rascal too good in the finish and Dirty Rascal won by 5 lengths on his next start. Last time out he once again found one too good, over 7f at Wolverhampton in a class 3 handicap. He’s clearly not badly handicapped and you can be pretty sure he’ll try and make all here. He’s been ridden by claimers on recent starts and perhaps Joe Fanning taking the mount will help ensure he gets the fractions right. He’s certainly capable but might just be vulnerable late on. Not a bad place bet at the very least though.

Firmanent

Consistent but ultimately difficult to win with. His best form generally comes at York but he was beaten just a short head at Doncaster over this trip late last season with a subsequent winner back in 3rd. He’s versatile regarding underfoot conditions and has often run well on seasonal reappearance. If he’s capable of defying a mark of 94 at the age of 9 it will probably be at York but he's entitled to run well enough.

Cold Stare

Twice a winner here and capable of this kind of mark but this horse wants the ground to be borderline unraceable. Having said that, he was an eyecatcher last time out on good to firm at Redcar over a furlong shorter and a repeat of that could see him go close but whether he can back that run up with another sound run on fast ground is open to debate. Certainly one to look out for when there is some cut in the ground soon.

Mustarrid

A wide margin winner of the same Nottingham race two years running but other than that hasn’t won since 2017. He seems at his best with plenty of give in the ground and although he does have form on faster ground, he also seems better at a mile. He has been outpaced over this course and distance on fast ground before and is likely to suffer the same fate again. Plenty of Ian Williams’ flat string are needing a run too it seems.

Admirality

A frustrating 7yo who has won just once in eighteen runs for Roger Fell but finished runner up on five occasions in that same period. He’s relatively versatile but is probably at his best over 7f on fast ground, his last nine turf runs on good or better at this distance have yielded form figures of 222133522. He won first time out two seasons ago but seemed to improve for the run last year. No seasonal debutant has even placed from this yard in the past 30 days from twelve runners which is a concern. He’s never one you can write off for a place but given the current trainer record and the horse’s difficulty getting his head in front he’s easily opposable for win purposes at the very least.

Another Batt

Had looked well handicapped on several occasions for previous trainers so no great surprise David Barron was able to get a win out of him on seasonal debut last year. That win was the first time the horse had even placed on good to firm ground and it perhaps left it’s mark with the horse not in the same form on his subsequent three runs. He’s run well enough on fast ground at this trip before off higher marks so can’t be ruled out because of the ground but we do have to take his wellbeing on trust. Stable are going okay first time up this season and not entirely dismissed for all he’s very risky.

Duesenberg

Taken well to Newcastle’s tapeta surface on his last two starts and was a winner over this distance last time out, getting up by a nose in a small field event. He’s 6lbs lower than when midfield in a good York mile handicap for 3yos last season but he’s often looked a bit paceless, despite winning last time dropped in trip. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he needs deep ground to show his best and he’s opposable here over this test.

Dulas

Was well enough thought of to start his 3yo campaign last season as 5/2 favourite in a pretty warm handicap but he was too keen and was well beaten. He ran much better dropped back to 6f at Newmarket on fast ground on his next start showing his mark wasn’t beyond him. He backed that up with another decent effort over 6f at Chelmsford, given no chance the way the race developed but making good late headway. He raced once since then, finishing well beaten and found to be lame afterwards. He’s been gelded since and seems to be the Charles Hills second string behind Persuasion. Wouldn’t be a big shock to see him run well.

Sir Maximillian

A second runner for Ian Williams and although he is relatively fit from racing on the all weather over the winter, he hasn’t run for 73 days so might need this given how some of Ian Williams’ are running after an absence. He was better than the bare form on a couple of occasions on artificial surfaces over the winter but never really threatened to win. He was in good form at this course last June in a hot contest and did win as an 11yo at Chester later in the summer. He’s going to find life difficult here from a wide draw but don’t be surprised if he gets his head in front again at Chester this season, a course where he has won four from nine and never run a bad race.

Verdict

This is a really wide open contest with some sort of question mark over most of the contenders. The only ones I’d be confident of ruling out for win purposes (not that they can’t run well) would be Firmanent, Mustarrid, Admirality, Duesenberg and Sir Maximilian.

I think Marshall Dan is worth opposing on this ground whilst Cold Stare and Another Batt would also prefer more juice so I wouldn’t rely on those.

Fox Champion is difficult to weigh up but Ralph Beckett’s stable change record gives real hope that this horse could bounce back. I still prefer to not back such regressive runners but if he wins we’ll all kick ourselves for not following such impressive trainer change stats.

That leaves Dreamloper, Persuasion, Gobi Sunset and Dulas.

Dreamloper would be a bet at a mile and should run well but dropping back in trip he’s short enough for me. Gobi Sunset has found one too good on three of his last four starts and seems pretty likely to run well again but won’t get an easy lead and is no more than a fair price.

That leaves the Charles Hills trained pair Persuasion and Dulas. Both are making their seasonal reappearances which is no negative based on the trainer form and both are well enough drawn in stalls 6 and 7 respectively. Dulas is an interesting contender and worth a win only saver but he’s already been a non runner twice in recent weeks which is a concern and he may well end up being keen stepping back up to 7f.

That leaves PERSUASION as the token selection in a fiendishly difficult contest. He was probably just out of form when not running well on faster ground last season having run so well on good to firm on his racecourse debut and his trainer is on record last season as saying he should be better on faster ground which helps confidence slightly. His full brother Qeyaadah, also preferred faster ground.