Uncle Bryn leads Cambridgeshire contenders

Ante-post favourite Uncle Bryn is one of 70 still in contention for the bet365 Cambridgeshire Handicap at Newmarket.

John and Thady Gosden’s one-time Classic hope returned to winning form at Ascot at the start of the month, overcoming a 113-day absence to win on his first start since a gelding operation.

The three-year-old is the 5-1 favourite with Coral for Saturday’s famous nine-furlong handicap, which has a maximum field of 35 runners.

Anmaat is next best in the market after winning his last two starts for Owen Burrows – while Astro King, Irish Admiral and Royal Marine are also to the fore in the bookmakers’ lists.

Ropey Guest is a 66-1 chance for George Margarson at this stage, but the popular performer heads to Newmarket on the back of his first success in more than a year at Yarmouth last week.

The four-year-old has lined up for some ultra-competitive tests this term, including when beaten four and a half lengths in fifth by Uncle Bryn at Ascot on his penultimate run.

Ropey Guest has raced only up to a mile so far, but Margarson believes the extra furlong could suit.

He said: “This has been the plan since Ascot, when he wasn’t beaten far by the favourite.

“I thought the favourite looked like he might come on a bit for that run, but ours will too because he’s quite a lazy horse at home – hence his nickname Chubby.

“He just started to come back to himself after Ascot, and we were delighted to win last week. I don’t really know what he beat, but it was a class two handicap – so it wasn’t too bad.”

Ropey Guest has shown some of his best form with cut in the ground, but good going would not concern Margarson too much.

The Newmarket handler added: “We’ve had some rain here today and last night – and knowing the gallops, I’d say if we were racing today it would be good to soft ground.

“Going up to a mile and a furlong, good ground would be fine. We are obviously stepping up in trip, but (jockey) Tom (Queally) has been keen to try him over a mile and a quarter – and given his run at Yarmouth, it didn’t look like it would be a problem.”

Palmer hopeful of big run from Acquitted in Victoria Cup

Hugo Palmer’s Acquitted will compete over seven furlongs for the first time when he lines up for the ultra-competitive tote+ Victoria Cup at Ascot on Saturday.

The four-year-old was beaten just a neck when making his seasonal reappearance in Doncaster’s Spring Mile, his first run since being gelded last year.

Palmer, who hopes that a marginally shorter trip will suit the son of Night Of Thunder, has no concerns about the forecast softer surface for the four-year-old.

“We’re trying a new trip with him, coming back to seven furlongs,” he said.

“I always thought we’d end up going up to 10 furlongs, but he travelled very strongly through the Spring Mile at Doncaster and just got touched off at the finish.

“We know he handles cut in the ground, and a stiff seven furlongs at Ascot should suit him down to the ground – he’s not slow.”

Also among the maximum 29-runner field is George Margarson’s Ropey Guest, who begins his four-year-old campaign after claiming a long-awaited first victory last year.

The Cable Bay gelding is owned by John Guest Racing, for whom Margarson trained Excellent Guest to win the same race at 25-1 in 2013.

“We won it first time out a few years ago with Excellent Guest, a horse with a similar profile,” said the Newmarket handler.

Excellent Guest was rated 93 at the time, 5lb lower than Ropey Guest’s current mark.

“In an ideal world we could have got him rated 90, but he wouldn’t have got in, so he’s probably on his top mark,” added Margarson.

“He’s shown form at 103, and then they dropped him to 98, which was fair enough for starting out in the handicap world.”

Richard Spencer’s Keyser Soze arrives in winning form, having claimed a mile handicap at Ascot last time.

“He’s come out of his last win at Ascot very well,” said Spencer.

“We’re dropping back to seven furlongs, but I think the rain is going to bring out the stamina in him which should suit.

“Angus Villiers rides again, which is great. He’s a good young jockey who works for us, and I think you’re going to hear a lot more of him this year.

“It’s going to be a stamina test for everything in the race, with the ground being as slow as it will be on Saturday.”

Spencer also runs Tyson Fury on the card, in the Listed Buckhounds Stakes over a mile and a half.

The four-year-old’s seasonal reappearance resulted in a fourth-placed finish in the Group Three John Porter Stakes at Newbury, where he came home nine and a quarter lengths behind William Haggas’ highly-regarded Al Aasy.

“He’s come out of his Newbury race really well – he was quite fresh that day,” said Spencer.

“He was a bit gassy and a bit keen in the early parts of the race. But hopefully the freshness is out of him now, and I think he’s taken a step forward from his Newbury run, so we’re looking forward to running him.”

Simon and Ed Crisford’s Without A Fight finished second in the John Porter and also heads to the Buckhounds.

Ralph Beckett’s Albaflora returns after being beaten a head into second, and just in front of Without A Fight, over two furlongs further here in the Listed Noel Murless Stakes on her final three-year-old start last October.

Ropey Guest ready to cash in at Ascot

George Margarson will happily trade off what he feels is an acceptable rating for next season if Ropey Guest wins the Balmoral Handicap on Qipco British Champions Day.

Until his recent win at Chelmsford, Ropey Guest had the unwanted title of the best maiden in training.

Placed in several Group races in a busy juvenile campaign, this season he picked up where he left off when fourth on his reappearance in the Jersey Stakes.

Margarson thinks he will come into his own next year in big-field handicaps – but given he is already rated 103, he could end up too high in the weights and find himself forced back into Group races.

“He’s run well in big fields before at Ascot, in the Coventry and the Jersey Stakes,” said Newmarket trainer Margarson.

“I think we’re drawn (three) on the right side with the favourite (Raaeq), because I think it will favour the stands side myself.

“He handles every ground – he was unlucky not to win the Horris Hill at the end of last season on heavy, and it was pretty soft at the Royal meeting.

“He’s in good form, and we’ve kept him fresh for this – hopefully it will give us an idea for the future as to where we go with him.”

Ropey Guest ran well in so many big races without gaining a deserved success that many questioned if it would ever come, but Margarson reports that his confidence never wavered.

“He doesn’t take getting beaten personally – he always came home and ate up,” he said.

“Katie (Margarson) rides him most mornings and says he’s bouncing – and by this time last year he’d had 11 runs, so he should be feeling very fresh, but there haven’t been the races for him this year.

“I’m really looking forward to next year for him and the big handicaps. But if he wins this then he might be too high – I’d take that, though, if it meant winning £100,000!

“He ran all those good races in Group races, and I always thought he wasn’t rated as high as he probably could be – we’ll get to find out now.

“I’ve had horses like Imperial Guest and Excellent Guest for the good handicaps, and I’d rate him above those two.”

Keats (navy blue) winning at Gowran earlier this season
Keats (navy blue) winning at Gowran earlier this season (PA Wire)

Aidan O’Brien’s Keats is another three-year-old in the field, and arrives on the back of a Listed win at Cork last time out.

“We’ve run him over further, but each time he drops back to a mile he’s very comfortable,” said O’Brien.

“Seamus (Heffernan) won a Listed race on him the last day and was very happy with him.

“He looks to be off a nice enough mark, even though he’s a three-year-old. He seems to be in good form since his last run.”

Brian Meehan’s Raaeq has headed the market since winning at Ascot by five lengths earlier this month – for which he carries a 6lb penalty, just like Keats.

“He’s an exciting horse with a big future,” said Meehan. “He’s gone up to 108 and will be off 103 on Saturday, which hopefully gives him a head start, but in big handicaps such as this you’ve got to be cautious.

“His rating means he’s in Stakes category now, and I’ve no doubt whatsoever he is up to it.”

James Doyle takes the ride on the Charlie Fellowes-trained King Ottokar, who has never quite lived up to his tall reputation.

“I rode him at Royal Ascot last year to be third in the Hampton Court, but for one reason or another he never quite went on from that,” said Doyle.

“I was in to ride him out last week and he felt really well – and one thing is for sure, he’ll love the ground. He loves to get his toe in.

“Hopefully it’s the sort of race he could go well in.”

Margarson ready to take handicap option with Ropey Guest

George Margarson may test Ropey Guest in handicap company for the first time at Ascot this weekend.

The Newmarket trainer is favouring Saturday’s Challenge Cup for his smart three-year-old, but he has also put him in the John Guest Racing Bengough Stakes at the Berkshire track and the Racing TV EBF Stallions Guisborough Stakes at Redcar.

Margarson is likely to wait until near declaration time on Thursday morning before deciding which race Ropey Guest will tackle.

The Cable Bay colt got off the mark at the 13th attempt when dropped in class for a novice event at Chelmsford last month, following a host of creditable efforts which included being placed in four Group races.

“I’m keen to try him in a handicap – I think he’s well handicapped on what he’s been doing,” said Margarson.

“I was going to wait until next year before he went into those sort of races, but there aren’t a load of options left for him off his mark.

“There’s either that or the mile race at Ascot on Champions’ Day (Balmoral Handicap). That’s the one I was aiming at, so if the ground is on the soft side he might go to Ascot for the handicap.

“I can see Redcar being heavy, looking at the weather forecast.”

Ascot is therefore the likeliest destination as Margarson mulls which race to choose.

He added: “It’s 50-50 – I am keen to try out his handicap mark, but it is tough for three-year-olds taking on those hardened handicappers.

“He’s held his own in some rough races there, though – the Jersey Stakes and the Coventry – and a big field wouldn’t worry him.

“He comes out better in that race than in the others. I’ve been going through all three races.”

Margarson has not totally ruled out the Bengough Stakes, because it is sponsored by Ropey Guest’s owners John Guest Racing.

“I was keen to try to win the boys their money back, so I wouldn’t say no, but I wouldn’t want to take Judicial on,” he said.

“He’s a proper sprinter a 110-rated horse. We’re not well in with him.

“I’ll be waiting until Thursday morning, but favouring the handicap at the moment.”