After a break from the race previews last week to write about hot form it’s time to delve back into the competitive race previews – this time with the November Handicap.
This is a race I’ve always had a bit of a fondness for, partly due to some decent success around a decade ago but I’ve admittedly found it tougher in recent years, perhaps because the ground has been pretty desperate more often than not.
It's been a rare drying week in the lead up to this year’s renewal so hopefully the ground won’t be too testing and the 2020 flat turf season can finish without the need to race on farcical ground.
This is perhaps the most surprising element of the race. Despite going round the bend low draws have seemed strongly disadvantaged in testing conditions over this course and distance.
In the past eleven years there have been thirteen 12f handicaps run on ground ranging from good to soft down to heavy and the lowest third of the draw has not only failed to provide a winner, those stalls also offer less than half of the placed finishers compared to middle and high draws. The PRB is also significantly lower.
Comparing the middle and high draws, middle draws have been better from a win perspective but thirteen races isn’t the best sample size to show an advantage for winners. The place data is almost identical and the PRB data is identical so there seems nothing in it.
It could be that the higher drawn middle numbers have been padding out the middle draw data so let’s take a closer look at the individual stall data.
This draw data shows that not all middle stalls and high stalls are created equal as the overview data might have suggested. Three of the four best PRB figures have been recorded by the three highest stalls.
These stalls do have the least amount of data due to the fact that we are looking at the actual stall they effectively came out of rather than the stall they were allocated in the racecard. For every lower drawn non runner each runner will break from a stall one closer to the rail. However it does seem significant that all three of the highest stalls have performed so well in terms of PRB.
It's not all bleak for the lower numbers. Stalls 2, 8 and 9 are joint third best for place percentage so we certainly shouldn’t just expect those drawn in double figures to fill all the places.
There does seem an advantage with the wider draws though. Looking at the nine stalls with the best PRB figures, eight of them are stall 12 or higher. Seven of the eight worst PRB figures come from stall 10 or lower.
We saw at Doncaster a couple of weeks ago, admittedly on extremely testing ground, that it was difficult to come from off the pace over most distances. There were no twenty-three runner races on those cards though so there is every chance this race could work out differently. To get a stronger idea of any pace bias we’ll need to look at similar big field races.
Using the same going filters as we used for the draw data, we see that prominent racers have won more often than any other type of run style, although hold up horses have fared almost as well.
As far as the place data is concerned, and this is going to be more enlightening with a sample size of this nature, mid division comes out as the best run style in front of prominent and then hold up. It’s clearly difficult to dominate from the front in a field of this size and nature with front runners having the poorest record by some distance although the Each Way PL is most profitable for front runners despite just two places and no wins - a sign they are underestimated by the bookies.
Depending on which data you look at you could argue any kind of run style is most advantageous so it seems as though every runner should have a fair chance, although the safest option seems to be to back those likely to race in mid division.
How this race is run could have the biggest bearing on what early position is best so let’s take a look at the pace map.
It looks almost certain we’ll see contested speed in this race with Raymond Tusk, Dash Of Spice, Bollin Joan, Glencadam Glory, Hiroshima, Torcello, Beechwood Jude and Euchen Glen all more than comfortable leading. Euchen Glen is tactically versatile and has been running in smaller field, group races recently so perhaps a bit more restraint will be used here but that still leaves no less than seven possible pace angles!
This race could be a real test at the trip with those coming from nearer the rear likely to be seen to best effect. A bit of extra stamina over further probably wouldn’t be a bad thing either, especially with the ground likely to be quite tacky.
Draw and Pace Combination
We’ve already established that a high draw seems to be an advantage here but is there also a pace bias related to that draw?
The answer is no. Those drawn high seem to have an equal chance of running well whatever their run style. The data above does suggest that coming from mid division with a high draw is a disadvantage but given there seems to be little to no change between hold up and prominent it seems unlikely there is a much bigger disadvantage being placed between those positions. A quirk of a fairly small sample size perhaps.
If you are drawn low you are almost certainly going to be seen to best effect if avoiding either front running duties or a hold up style whilst those drawn in the middle have a fair chance however they are ridden but again, being either prominent or mid division is probably advantageous to those runners.
A big thing is always made of the age of a horse when looking at big handicap trends but does it really make much difference, especially with only 3yos carrying a different weight for age (5lb advantage)?
In the past five renewals of this race there have been winners aged 3, 4, 5 and 7 so a fairly even spread. Arguably 4yos have faired best as they are the only age group to have a better place percentage (55%) compared to their representation in those fields (40%). The 3yos have also performed okay with a 10% place strike rate having made up 11% of the runners during that period. The older brigade, 6yos and 7yos were slightly further below par and 5yos performed least well with a 15% place strike rate compared to 25% representation.
It’s a small sample but it stands to reason that the younger, less exposed runners are likely to include the best handicapped runners.
It's the end of the season and many of these runners have had a tough season so it would be easy to suggest this is a race that’s likely to have an upset. Plenty of big prices tend to reach the frame in this race but it’s worth noting that the last six winners of this race started at 10/1 or less.
He looks to have been saved for this since his close 2nd at Ascot in late July but given he had previously missed 14 months of action it’s entirely possible that connections simply haven’t been able to get him to the track since then. The 4yo has had just six runs to date so there should be more improvement to come and he won his sole start on soft ground at this distance comfortably, albeit off a 10lb lower mark.
He may have been difficult to train but he’s never run a bad race when getting to the racecourse and a 3lbs rise for being beaten a nose last time out seems fair, for all that form hasn’t worked out well. Given he would have preferred softer ground on that occasion it’s probably fair to mark him up as the best horse in that race.
You couldn’t confidently say he’s well enough handicapped to win a race like this given he’s never really beaten much but conditions seem ideal, he’s lightly raced, his trainer is in excellent form and he is very favourably drawn in stall 20.
The 7yo has taken his form to a new level this season after missing two years of racing before a return this season. He’s taken his racing well this season having had nine starts in less than five months and he’s won three of his last four including the Old Borough Cup over two furlongs further and two Group 3s over this distance. All those wins came in very testing conditions.
His Old Borough Cup win came off a 8lb lower mark (form hasn’t really worked out) and on his latest win he beat a horse now rated 101 by 1.75 lengths giving that runner 3lbs so whilst his mark is fair, it’s hardly generous.
He was well beaten in this as a 4yo but he’s a different horse now. He’s entitled to go well if he is ridden a bit more patiently than he has been on recent starts and he is well drawn in 18 but he’s surely not the best handicapped runner in this field.
One of six 3yos in the field and completely unexposed at this distance having had just one start over further than 10f. That run came last time out when winning the Old Rowley Cup, usually one of the hottest handicaps of the season, by half a length on soft ground.
There are early signs that race is working out okay and there is certainly plenty of strength going through his previous form. On his penultimate start he was a staying on 3rd over two furlongs shorter behind Ilaraab who won again next time out.
Trainer Ian Williams saddled the 3rd in the latest renewal of this race and the winner the year before. Kingbrook will once again be ridden by Richard Kingscote, who gave him an excellent ride last time out. He's up 6lbs for his latest win but there should still be more to come and it’s interesting that he’s not only well proven on soft ground but he also has form on plenty of different types of going. This can be an asset when going through tacky, holding ground. Very well drawn in 22.
On To Victory
Consistent on the flat this season, in the first three on all three starts. Placing has never been his issue, he’s been 2nd or 3rd on his last five completed starts, but he is winless since 2017.
His form is solid, if unspectacular, and he’s only 1lb higher than when 2nd at Ascot on his last start at this distance. He is arguably better over further, which might not be a bad thing if this race is run at a very strong gallop but the winless run is a concern.
Stall 13 is okay and there are no issues with the ground so he should run well but he doesn’t appeal strongly for win purposes.
A generally progressive 3yo who was well fancied last time out over shorter, failing to get home in very testing ground. He has previously finished almost 8 lengths behind Kingbrook at Newmarket and on that form he has work to do now just 7lbs better off.
He's the lowest drawn of those near the head of the market and not only does stall 6 look a likely disadvantage, he’s also going to be dropped out in the rear from that draw which is proven to be a bad tactic from a low draw. This could be tough for him for all he still may have wiggle room off his mark.
Dash Of Spice
Hasn’t been in the same form as 2018 this term having missed two years of racing before a reappearance in July of this year. After dropping 11lbs, 5lbs below his last winning mark, he put in his best performance of the season last time out when seen to best effect from the front over course and distance finishing 2nd to Tulip Fields who reopposes here.
Low drawn front runners tend to be disadvantaged in this and he’s going to face plenty of competition for the lead. The 4lb pull with Tulip Fields seems unlikely to be enough to reverse the form and it’s a surprise he’s the shorter price of the pair with many bookies.
David O’Meara’s 3yo has seemingly improved for the step up in trip to 10f on his last two starts, winning both. Those two wins have come in soft ground, they’ve worked out pretty well (beat subsequent winners in both) and he’s won both more cosily than the winning distance suggests.
The 8lbs he’s gone up for winning those two contests is probably less of a concern than the step up in trip, especially as he was racing over a mile just three runs ago.
The excellent Profiler tool on Geegeez Gold shows that Free Eagle’s sire’s offspring perform much better in handicaps over 10f compared to 12f. In fact Eagle Court would be a first handicap winner over this trip for Free Eagle should he emerge victorious here. He’s well drawn in 21 but is going to have his stamina severely tested here and he’s probably one for the tracker for his next run back at 10f.
A difficult runner to figure out with just four career starts. He was impressive at Ripon on his penultimate start when beating Bollin Joan (reopposes here) by 4 lengths on good to soft ground. Bollin Joan did go on to win two starts later so it clearly wasn’t a bad contest.
He wasn’t as good off an 8lb higher mark next time out in a class 2 handicap over a couple of extra furlongs at York on softer ground when 5th, beaten over 8 lengths. He was beaten before stamina came into play that day and it’s difficult to tell if the new mark caught him out or if he was just below par.
His draw in 11 is probably just about okay but the percentage call has to be to oppose him. Market support may be significant though.
A 6yo with a decent strike rate on the flat of six wins from sixteen runs. He handles very testing ground well but he’s on a career high mark and faces plenty of competition for front running duties. All his wins have been in much smaller fields and it would be a surprise if he was good enough to even place in this.
Won well here a couple of starts back and wasn’t badly hit by the handicapper, only going up 4lbs for winning by 2 lengths. There is a suspicion that race rather fell apart though with several runners not performing on the very testing ground.
She wasn’t disgraced next time out in listed company at Lingfield, perhaps not quite getting home over an extra furlong, but didn’t do a lot to suggest she’d up to winning a race this competitive. She won’t be far off the pace, for all she’s unlikely to lead, and a place would be a decent effort.
The only one at a bigger price to catch my eye. It wouldn’t be a crazy assumption to think he hasn’t quite got home on very testing ground on his last two runs at 14f. If you were able to ignore those runs he suddenly becomes very interesting. His last run at this distance was a 4th in a six runner race, which on the face of it doesn’t seem great but he was only beaten 2.75 lengths and the 2nd and 3rd both came out and won easily next time.
He’s only 4lbs higher than when winning by 3 lengths earlier this season and he’s generally been consistent when faced with middle distances and softer ground. In fact his form figures at 10f or 12f on soft ground read 21314.
His draw in stall 10 isn’t perfect but 25/1 with as many as 7 places on offer for each way purposes underestimates his chances here. He was after all sent off near favourite for the Old Borough Handicap a few runs ago.
Rythmic Intent is pretty interesting but ideally he’d have been drawn higher and he does have to bounce back from a poor run last time, even if there were excuses. Eagle Court is a big threat from a great draw if he stays but there is evidence to suggest this trip will stretch him. Meanwhile Euchen Glen appears a solid choice and he’s perhaps still improving at the age of 7 but for win purposes he’s passed over. On To Victory is a horse that will interest plenty of each way punters but he appeals more as a place only bet than anything else.
The two most interesting runners should be Sam Cooke and Kingbrook who are unfortunately both well found in the betting. Sam Cooke has a lovely profile for this but he still seemingly hasn’t done it against well handicapped rivals. That’s not his fault, he just seemingly hasn’t bumped into them yet, but for a horse trading at around 6/1 you’d probably want to be a bit more sure about his handicap mark.
Kingbrook isn’t yet proven off a mark in the mid nineties but the manner of his victory last time in what is usually a very hot race suggests he could yet rate higher. He seemed to relish the step up in trip and the handicapper hasn’t had a proper chance to catch up with him over this distance. Everything else appears to be in his favour and with just three runs under his belt this season he comes here a very fresh horse. With one bookies going 7/1 and 7 places on each way bets that appears a very good bet for all the likely very tacky ground is a potential fly in the ointment.
As it's the final big handicap of the flat season I'll throw a speculative tricast out there:
2. Sam Cooke
3. On To Victory