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Wokingham Handicap 2021 Preview: Value Seekers Could Be Feeling Fresh

It’s been a great Royal Ascot so far and Saturday’s toughest race has to be the Wokingham Handicap, which will be run at 5pm.

There will be a maximum field of 28 going to post and it looks set to be run on very testing ground after Friday's heavy rain.

All of the data used below is available through a Geegeez Gold subscription. Click here to get your first 30 days of Geegeez Gold for just £1.

Draw

The benefit of betting on the final day of this meeting is that draw advantages have usually been established throughout the week so there is generally less guesswork involved.

It looks as though both sides of the course are much faster than the centre of the course so they’ll almost certainly split into two groups here on either side of the track.

It's still worth taking a look at any historical draw advantages in big fields over this 6f distance though.

Looking at low v middle v high, both middle and high hold the edge over low with a PRB of 0.51 for middle and high and 0.48 for low. There’s not much in it and both the win and place percentage data is also very closely matched so there is no strong long term course bias as far as the draw is concerned.

From previous experience we know the supposed bias can switch from one side to another overnight here and it’s worth repeating that middle looks the place NOT to be this week, so those drawn in the middle will most likely track over to their nearest rail.

The individual draw data chart can help show us possible micro biases in the draw. The above seems to indicate that being right on the stands’ side rail can be of benefit. The top three PRB3 figures in the data set belong to stalls 27, 26 and 28 respectively.

Pace

Ascot is generally considered a pretty fair course as far as pace is concerned but is that true over this trip in big fields?

The best win percentages and place percentages here belong to front runners with 10.42% of early leaders going on to win and 25.00% of them finishing in the places.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an advantage to as close to the pace as possible though as the next best success rate belongs to the most patiently ridden runners. Hold up performers have a win percentage of 6.60% and a place percentage of 21.70% which seems to highlight a bias towards extremes of rides. Exactly half of the winners in the data sample were held up early so whether or not those near the rear early have an advantage, they look most likely to supply the winner but they’ll be represented more than any other run style too.

Wokingham Handicap Pace Map

The pace maps for these big field handicaps are always hugely important. Not only do we need to know how much pace there is likely to be but we also want to find out how that pace is distributed across the track.

You could spend hours alone creating a pace map for this race but fortunately Geegeez Gold has done the hard work for us.

I’ve added a red line to show where the field MIGHT split, assuming they do so, although there is no guarantee it will be exactly there. The majority of the definite pace appears to be middle to high. There isn’t much pace above stall 20 but there is pace closer to the far rail. It will be interesting to see which way Desert Safari goes as he would add extra pace to the far side.

There is definite potential for the stands’ side to be taken along at a stronger gallop once they’ve completely split into two but there is definite pace both sides so it should be a relatively fair contest.

Draw and Pace Combination

It's always worth also examining the draw and pace combination heat map for races where there are possible draw or pace biases and once again Geegeez Gold gives us the data in an easy to consume format.

For whatever reason it appears low drawn front runners perform extremely well with a PRB of 0.66. Leading from a high draw, racing in mid division from a central draw or being held up from a central or high draw seem the other ideal draw and pace combinations.

By far the worst record belongs to front runners drawn in the middle. They potentially have to use up too much energy if the field splits getting to the rail AND getting to the lead. If the fields don’t split then dominating a massive field is never going to be easy either. There are several middle drawn pace angles including the relatively well fancied Punchbowl Flyer.

The main takeaway from this data seems to be that those drawn in the middle are best off with patient rides.

The Runners

Here are the leading contenders for this race, in early odds order.

King’s Lynn

Not many run in the King’s Stand as a preparation for this but that’s the route King’s Lynn has gone. You could probably argue the he was both unlucky and flattered in that race. He met trouble in running and could undoubtedly have finished closer but he was also extremely well drawn in hindsight, running on the fastest part of the track and he was held up off an overly strong gallop. In reality he probably ran close to his rating of 107 but that’s not the rating he runs off here, he carries a 5lb penalty for winning a listed contest and runs off 100 so he’s 7lbs well in.

The good news for King’s Lynn backers is that seemingly pretty versatile with regards to the going. He's also well handicapped on his 6f form last season behind Starman. The bad news is that he’s been beaten in three handicaps previously, all off lower marks, and he seems to have improved this season for the drop back to 5f – this will be a very different test.

He’s impossible to rule out confidently but there are enough negatives to suggest he’s a poor bet at around 4/1.

Chil Chil

Still progressive at the age of 5, he clearly improved from first race to second this season having finished runner up on his seasonal debut before winning by 3.5 lengths last time out. Both of those runs came at Newmarket and he does go very well there but he’s also a winner over this course and distance. He’s gone up 13lbs this season which makes winning this very difficult and he looks reliant on fast ground so Friday's rain has to be considered a massive negative. Stall 30 puts him right on the rail though so he can take the shortest route home.

Rohaan

You don’t get many 3yo runners in this and the last winner from the classic generation was Bel Byou back in 1987. He’s a group 3 winner over course and distance so has plenty of class and whilst that win came on good to firm, he won a group 2 next time out in heavy ground so it looks as though any rain won’t bother him.

What is most amazing about this horse is he was rated just 55 in December and now he runs in a handicap off 112. He’ll be seen to better effect here off a strong gallop than he has been in smaller field group races but he’ll need to be a group 1 horse to win this off such a high mark. If that’s the case then he may have been better served competing for twice the prize money in the Commonwealth Cup a day earlier. As a gelding, though, he was not eligible for that contest.

Pendleton

Caught on the line in a course and distance handicap two runs ago before winning at York, dropped back to 5f. He’s gone up 10lbs for those two runs this season but is clearly lightly raced and very progressive and it’s highly likely he’ll be able to defy this mark at some point this season. He’s drawn in stall 2 so can pop straight out on to the far side rail and he’s likely to race prominently. He’s one that will enjoy the ground although very testing conditions perhaps put an even further emphasis on stamina than he is comfortable with.

It’s worth noting that it was Fresh who beat him here earlier this season and that rival reopposes here on 5lbs better terms. Fresh did have the advantage of a recent run though which would give some hope of reversing the form.

Chiefofchiefs

The winner of the Wokingham consolation race last year, he’s been a big improver since dropping in trip and seems the ideal type for these big field handicaps at Ascot. He also ran well in the Victoria Cup this season when beaten 3 lengths into 7th, not ideally placed. It could be argued that he’s not particularly well handicapped but he was an eyecatcher in a strong listed race on seasonal debut at Doncaster and he is still unexposed in big field sprints. He handles cut in the ground but he looks better on fast ground and his best chance of winning this would have been if the rain stayed away.

Fresh

One of the most lightly raced runners in this field and therefore open to more improvement than most. It was mentioned that King’s Lynn got within 2.5 lengths of the classy Starman last season, well in Starman’s previous race he was only a short head in front of none other than Fresh. This runner has progressed well since then producing form figures of 142251 in handicaps.

He’s generally had some very valid excuses when beaten. The ground was perhaps a little lively when a close 4th at Doncaster, he was a nose behind Stone Circle here last season when one of the only runners to make up any ground on the entire card, he bumped into a rejuvenated Brian The Snail at Newcastle (would rate 13lbs higher a couple of months later, Fresh is only 6lbs higher here) and then on seasonal debut this season he was given far too much to do off a slow gallop in a race where the 1st, 3rd and 4th all won shortly after.

He then beat Pendleton here on his latest start, on good to soft ground, and that runner up franked the form by winning well next time out. Lots to like and has run very well here on testing ground previously.

Desert Safari

Not the most consistent but talented on his day. He’s been below par on both good to firm ground and good to soft ground with a win over 5f on fast ground in between those efforts. He’s bumped into Fresh a couple of times in the past twelve months and wouldn’t be guaranteed to beat that runner on either of those runs and he’s looked mostly speed this season so there have to be question marks about this suiting. He’s capable of defying this mark and Frankie Dettori is an interesting jockey booking but he’s drawn right in the middle and there will be other days for this one.

Tis Marvellous

An Ascot specialist who has won here twice and also placed in two previous renewals of this race. He was also 4th to Battaash in last year’s King’s Stand. The placed efforts in this race came off this mark of 101 and also off 99 so he does need to improve on those but he was in good form off a 2lb higher mark last time out, two lengths behind King’s Lynn and now 8lbs better off.

The problem for Tis Marvellous is the distance. It’s not that he doesn’t stay 6f, he’s just around half a stone better at 5f. Both his course wins and all his best runs here have come over the minimum distance. He also prefers fast ground so his fair chance of hitting the frame has probably turned into a slim chance on the very soft ground. Look out for this runner back here in a month’s time in the big field 5f handicap, on fast ground he’d look a good bet there.

Mr Lupton

A winner at York last time out (a course he often does well at) and still 8lbs lower than his peak rating, although that came 4 years ago. He’s finished 8th and 12th off this sort of mark in two attempts at this race and it’s unclear where the extra improvement is going to come from for him to get into the frame this time around.

Gulliver

Has seemingly gone on any ground in the past but seems better with plenty of cut in the ground these days. It’s also worth noting that his four turf wins have all come at York. He finished runner up here on soft ground off a much lower mark back in 2017 and was a good 4th in this last year off a 3lb higher mark so he’d have definite claims on that form. Thoroughly exposed but does have a chance, especially now the rain has fallen. Place claims at the very least.

Hey Jonesy

Last year’s winner. Very much an in and out performer who barely beat a rival home in five start’s after winning this race last year but he bounced back to form last time out at Chester over further than ideal. He was admittedly well placed but the well placed runner up in that race has won since and he now comes into this just 1lb higher than when successful last year. This looks a deeper race this year and making all from stall 12 won’t be easy but he can’t be confidently ruled out with this clearly the target for a long time.

Punchbowl Flyer

Relatively exposed for a 4yo but evidently still improving having won his last two starts including a big field sprint on soft ground at Haydock. Plenty of cut seems important to him so connections will have been delighted to get the rain. He’s made all for his last two wins and won’t find dominating as easy here, especially as he’ll have a little crossing over to do from stall 19.

Great Ambassador **RESERVE**

Interesting if he gets a run. He has been well enough beaten in two starts here last year but both of those came over a mile and the effort on soft ground in last season’s Britannia Handicap wasn’t bad either. He had some interesting form on fast ground as a juvenile, finishing less than a length 2nd to subsequent Group 1 winner Pyledriver and also in a Goodwood maiden when third to runners that would rate 96 and 101. The 4th was subsequently rated 116!

You could argue that he’s better on the all weather, his form figures on artificial surfaces read 2121 whilst his turf form figures read 230773. However he was held up off a slow gallop last time when third on turf off a 1lb higher mark and he did have that good fast ground form on turf as a 2yo. A big field sprint at a course that can suit all weather runners could see a career best. The rain probably isn't ideal but he did perform fairly here on soft ground over a mile at last year's Royal meeting and he may get home better over the shorter trip..

Danzeno

An extremely consistent sort who has finished in the first three in all but two of his last fifteen runs, dating back to the start of the 2019 season. He’s run in this race for the past three years, finishing 17th, 3rd and 9th. He comes into this in good form and is potentially well drawn in 29 but he’s difficult to win with and is probably best at 5f these days, or at least an easier 6f.

The Verdict

It's entirely possible I haven’t mentioned the winner from the above (there have been a couple of 33/1 winners in the past decade) but seven of the last ten winners were 18/1 or under and with some exciting runners near the head of the market there is a very good chance it’s one of those that leads this field home.

It’s worth noting that five year olds do very well in this race, six of the last eight winners were that age. By far the most fancied five year olds this year are Chil Chil and Pendleton. The ground has probably gone against Chil Chil so by far the most appealing 5yo is Pendleton but he might be vulnerable to a stronger stayer late on.

King’s Lynn may well win but he’s a crazy price considering the depth in this contest. Rohaan is probably a bit more interesting than King’s Lynn. It will be a monumental effort to win this off a mark of 112 but even if you don’t like his group race form, he still gave a pound and a short head beating to Diligent Harry who is rated 106 heading into the Commonwealth Cup on Friday so it’s difficult to argue Diligent Harry is badly handicapped. I just have a gut feeling he won’t win from that mark but it will be interesting to see how he goes.

Chiefofchiefs and Tis Marvellous are both thoroughly exposed and would have been interesting each way shouts had the ground been better. Of the exposed brigade it is now Gulliver who appeals most given he has run well here on soft in the past, ran well in the race last year on ground that was probably too fast and he was a bit of an eyecatcher last time out at York, finishing well from miles off the pace.

The unexposed one of major interest though may well be FRESH who looks decent value at around 14/1. He looked well ahead of his mark still when beating Pendleton last time out and that runner up franked the form since. Fresh has run twice over course and distance and he’s been beaten a nose (unluckily) and he’s been victorious by a nose so he clearly goes well here. Really he should be unbeaten in two starts here and this will be the the strongest pace he's had to aim at here. He's weighted to beat Pendleton and really shouldn't be a bigger price than that one.

If Great Ambassador gets a run he'd be interesting but the ground may well have gone against him. If he was particularly strong in the market he might be worth a small win only bet.