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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.

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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.