Victoria Cup Preview: Roger Varian Fancied For Back To Back Success

Some nice racing awaits on Saturday but there is no doubt about the main betting race of the day, the Victoria Cup at Ascot which will be run at 3.40pm and shown live on ITV4. Just the 29 runners go to post and we haven’t had much soft ground this season so there is every chance the form book gets turned on it’s head.

On the subject of the ground, it’s good to soft at the time of writing with 10mm+ forecast for late morning and early afternoon on Saturday so there is every chance this will be run on proper soft ground.

Draw

First let’s take a look at a possible draw advantage on softer ground over this course and distance.

Not a massive sample of races but some big fields so the PRB (percentage of rivals beaten) should be pretty reliable. This suggests high (PRB of 0.53) is most favoured, followed by low (0.51) and then middle is worst of all (0.46). The Ascot draw bias can change from one side to another from race to race and meeting to meeting which is potentially why each wing performs better than the middle.

Every metric appears to reinforce that there is a bias towards high drawn runners here.

Looking back at recent runnings of the Victoria Cup, there was no race last year due to covid but in 2019 seven of the first eight finishers were drawn in double figures. In 2018 the race was run on good to firm but once again the double figure stalls dominated, producing eight of the first nine home. In 2017 the best placed single figure stall was 12th and 2014 was the penultimate time this race was run with cut in the ground and ten of the first eleven finishers were drawn stall 16 or higher. At this time of year it certainly seems a high draw can be very advantageous.

To add some balance though, the last Victoria Cup to be run on truly soft ground was in 2012 and the first four places were all filled by horses drawn 8 or lower, so we can’t be 100% sure high draws will be favoured.

Looking at the individual stall data it seems either very low or very high is often the place to be. Sorted by PRB3, which takes an average including the stalls either side of each gate, the top eleven performers are either 20+ or 5 or lower. Perhaps it’s just far easier to get a run if you are drawn on a flank.

Pace

Now let’s examine pace here at 7f.

This is probably the fairest data you will find over any course and distance, with no more than 3.2% between any of the run styles according to the place data, which considers more data than any other metric here. Racing prominently gives the best place percentage on this sort of ground (20.59%) whilst front runners do least well (17.39%). There is no surprise that front running is the least effective tactic here given it’s a straight, stiff 7f and we are only looking at big fields.

Both front runners and prominent racers produce a level stakes profit if backed each way, whilst mid division and held up produce a loss. There is clearly a slight overestimation of the effectiveness of the more patiently ridden types, who have perhaps caught the eye elsewhere finishing well.

Victoria Cup Pace Map

Given the even pace data we have, the pace map for this race could tell us which runners are likely to be most advantaged by the run of the race.

There is potentially pace spread evenly across the track but there isn’t a lot of it. Marshal Dan tends to lead and he is drawn in stall 3 whilst Jack’s Point (12) usually leads or slots in close to the leaders and Sunset Breeze, drawn highest of all, could take the high numbers into the race. None of the above are absolute trailblazers though and this race isn’t guaranteed to be run at a breakneck pace which could compromise the chances of those that come from the back or perhaps those who are better at a mile than 7f.

Draw and Pace Combination

One last thing to look at before we go through the runners. The draw and pace combination heat map shows us the best run styles for each draw, and the best draws for each run style.

It seems as though those that are drawn low are best off ridden as patiently as possible, with a very respectable PRB of 0.60 for low drawn hold ups. Prominent rides also do well from low draws but front runners from both low or middle seemingly do much less well than high drawn front runners.

Hold up performers drawn in the middle seem to perform a little below par. This makes sense as they either have to go through the most traffic or switch wide to get a clear run. Either way it's a disadvantage.

Meanwhile all run styles from a high draw overperform, with mid division or a prominent run style most favoured.

The Runners

In this section I will analyse the chances of the main competitors, whilst also pinpointing a few at bigger prices who might outrun their odds.

Acquitted

One I fancied to go well last week in the Thirsk Hunt Cup on the strength of his Spring Mile 2nd but he was withdrawn as the ground was too fast. To go over that Spring Mile form again, seven of the first nine home have run since and all but one of those has finished at least 2nd giving it a really strong look.

He’s handicapped to win a good race and the drop back to 7f here shouldn’t inconvenience, he’s a smooth enough traveller who has looked like winning a furlong out on a couple of occasions only to be caught close home.

There is a ground question mark though. He’s been withdrawn on fast ground and has won on heavy so most will assume he wants it soft. However when he won on heavy it was only a maiden and the jockey said he didn’t enjoy the ground. He flopped on soft ground here at Ascot last season, admittedly over 10f which was too far, but Hugo Palmer has also recently stated that he probably doesn’t want it softer than good. There is a fair chance this could be too soft for him in a race this competitive. Should be well drawn in 20.

Fox Champion

Back to form last time out having been gelded and switched yards over the winter. Ralph Beckett has a really strong record with horses he receives from other yards so whilst he could be expected to improve after 168 days off the track, that improvement might not be forthcoming.

He’s well handicapped on his old form and runs off the same mark as when a creditable 3rd in a strong enough handicap at Haydock last time but the ground is a bigger question mark for this runner than it is Acquitted. Fox Champion has run three times on ground that is good to soft or softer outside of novice company and he’s barely beaten a rival home in all three runs. Stall 2 could be a positive but also potentially a negative.

Raising Sand

Nine year old course specialist who has had fifteen of his last eighteen runs here. He’s arguably better over this 7f than a mile (last two wins have come over this distance and off higher marks than his mile wins) and his 7f record at Ascot away from fast ground reads 431410.

This will be his first run of the season but Jamie Osbourne’s runners in the past month that have returned from a 60+ day break have outperformed his runners who have had a run so fitness shouldn’t be an issue.

He has run relatively poorly on three of his last four starts though and it could be age is catching up with him. He did run well first time out last season in the Royal Hunt Cup, finishing 8th in a strong renewal and doing best of those drawn low. He’s also dropped to his last winning mark and has the useful Saffie Osbourne claiming 7lbs. She had a winner and a 4th on the straight track from two rides here recently. Potentially well drawn but might benefit from a stronger pace than seems likely.

Chiefofchiefs

A surprise winner of last season’s Wokingham here and followed that up with a staying on 4th back here over 7f in July. He’s now 1lb lower than that most recent effort here and although he has a mixed record on softer ground, he stayed on extremely well in soft at Doncaster in November over 6f proving he copes with this at the very least.

He reappeared at Doncaster in good enough form, getting a luckless passage again at listed level over 6f, looking in need of further or a stiffer track. Not badly handicapped and most things in his favour here but he’d want them to go hard up front and being drawn in the middle isn’t great for one that likes to be dropped out. He’ll need plenty of luck but is capable of running very well.

Motakhayyel

Winner of the Buckingham Palace Stakes last season so this course and distance is no problem for him. He followed that up with a win in the Bunbury Cup from Sir Busker, who has rated 9lbs higher since. He wasn’t in the same form in two more starts later in the season, not as effective over a mile but the distance not solely to blame.

Returned in good enough form this season when runner up to Toro Strike at Thirsk but almost certainly not quite running to his lofty mark of 111 on that occasion. He brings form figures of 12112 at 7f into this and should win a decent race this season but might not want it as soft as it ends up here if the forecast rain hits.

Escobar

The highlight of his ten runs at Ascot was a success in the Balmoral Handicap in 2019, beating Lord North. His only two runs here since have come in Group 1 company. He ran well on his last two course and distance runs, seemingly finding the test a bit sharp on both occasions.

He has been largely out of form until finishing 3rd last time out at Haydock. That race lacked depth though and he needs to improve again to feature here. He’ll be of more interest in the Royal Hunt Cup next month.

Jumaira Bay

Relatively lightly raced, from a powerful yard and lots of interesting form angles. He started last season with a close 2nd to Nugget, who is now rated 21lbs higher (Jumaira Bay is now just 11lbs higher). On his next start he was 3rd to 2 runners who have won off higher marks since and perhaps his most interesting piece of form was his 2nd at York on his third run last season. He was just a short head behind Brunch (now rated 16lbs higher) and Jumaira Bay is only 5lbs higher than that effort.

He didn’t react well to cheekpieces later that season but seemed to take to blinkers better, firstly staying on well from an impossible position at Kempton over a mile to finish 3rd and then finishing a close 2nd in heavy ground at Newbury over 7f, ridden more prominently on that occasion.

There is a lot to suggest he’s well handicapped still but it’s disappointing he wasn’t able to win a handicap last season, for all he bumped into some well handicapped runners. He’s been gelded since and sports no headgear here so is perhaps considered more the finished article now. He needs to go up in the weights to get into any of the Royal Ascot handicaps so should be ready to go first time up.

Keyser Soze

Won for the first time in over two years last time out over course and distance, mastering a well handicapped runner late on. He’s up just 2lbs but this race is much tougher and he was very well placed in that contest. He’s not necessarily one you’d trust to follow up and has generally been best suited by decent ground so any extra rain is probably a negative.

River Nymph

A difficult runner to weigh up. He looked a big improver last summer when bolting up in two 7f handicaps. The first came over course and distance and the second when beating two subsequent winners.

His form in two runs since has been far less impressive though. He flopped badly in the Balmoral Handicap in October and didn’t run well in the Lincoln this season either. On both occasions it looked more than the distance that beat him which is worrying. If he came here off the back of his last win he’d be a very warm order but for all he could bounce back and bolt up, he’s extremely risky in his current form. Conditions in his favour though.

Sunset Breeze

Some excellent form to his name. Ran Double Or Bubble within a head over course and distance in September and that horse absolutely bolted up at Newmarket on his next start. Then bumped into A well handicapped Tranchee  (now rated 14lbs higher) at Doncaster. He’s proven on soft and over 7f but yet to prove he’s truly suited by 7f on soft, possibly a little speedy for this sort of contest. Undoubtedly well handicapped and probably well drawn too in stall 29.

Symbolize

He’s run well enough in three goes here on soft ground, finding the mile trip a bit far on his last attempt in the Balmoral Handicap. Nothing wrong with his reappearance when 2nd (well positioned) behind easy and progressive winner but difficult to make a case for him being well handicapped off a mark of 103. Probably well drawn but looks the type to finish just outside the places.

Karibana

Progressive last season and still room for improvement. Doesn’t necessarily need to improve as his last 2nd has worked out well with the winner and 3rd both successful on their next starts. Big field scenarios suit but he has never raced on anything softer than good, which seems by design. The sire was a heavy ground winner and several of his offspring have won on heavy so there is hope he’ll cope with dig in the ground. Richard Hughes’ runners have a PRB of 0.59 in handicaps in the past 30 days and that goes up to 0.69 if only looking at runners having their first run in 60+ days so he should be ready to go and stall 18 should be fine.

Walhaan

Runner up to River Nymph over course and distance last summer, beaten two lengths but not seen to anywhere near best effect. Ran well again here over a mile behind Tempus a couple of runs later, probably didn’t stay in the Cambridgeshire and then below par on heavy ground on his final run of the season. Capable off this mark but took a couple of runs to get going last season. It's also worth mentioning this will be his debut for James Tate, who has a respectable PRB of 0.5 and a win strike rate of 16.67% with runners making their debuts having joined from other stables in the past five years according to the Trainer Change report.

Greenside

Invariably runs well in defeat in these big handicaps. He was 2nd in a big field here over 7f on soft in October 2019 and then 3rd in the Balmoral Handicap last season but Marco Ghiani claimed 7lbs and 5lbs respectively in those races and now claims just 3lbs. He can run respectably again but difficult to see him winning.

On A Session

In good form in both runs for a new yard this year, 2nd in the Lincoln Trial and then 4th in the Thirsk Hunt Cup. Was well placed in both but that latest run came on ground that would have been plenty fast enough. He’d have a serious chance based on his most recent run over 7f on soft ground and looks overpriced from a potentially good draw with the likelihood he’ll be well placed yet again.

Ropey Guest

Has run some good races here in the past and was half a length behind Symbolize in the Jersey Stakes last season. He’s 5lbs better off here so whilst Symbolize has already proven his well being this season, Ropey Guest has every chance of finishing in front of that rival here. He’s one that could outrun his odds from what’s probably a good draw having been gelded over the winter.

Cold Stare

A massive eyecatcher at Redcar on seasonal debut on ground that would have been far too fast. Below par last time out (again on fast ground) but that’s no great surprise. He’s run poorly over course and distance three times on fast ground but was 7th two seasons ago here on soft and that came off a 9lb higher mark. He won off the mark and it’s a case of the softer the better for him. Slight question mark over stall 5 though, for all it has a decent record.

The Verdict

Where do you start? There’s the more progressive ones such as Acquitted, Jumaira Bay, Sunset Breeze and Karibana, all of whom ran well on their latest starts. Then there’s the course specialists Raising Sand, Chiefofchiefs and to a certain extent Greenside. There’s also On A Session who seems to have a lot in his favour, but he appeals more as a place only bet than an each way.

Raising Sand appeals most of the more exposed ones. He has pretty much everything in his favour here, it’s just a question of how much ability still remains at the age of 9. If he can reproduce his 2019 form he’d have an excellent chance but there has to be a little doubt about that.

It’s possible the ground could get too soft for Acquitted and he still has to prove himself at this trip so despite looking very well handicapped he’s too much of a risk at the price. Sunset Breeze and Karibana still need to prove 7f on soft ground is for them so they too are reluctantly passed over, for all Sunset Breeze has won on soft and has gone close over 7f. It may well seem stupid to have gone against him once the race has been run.

JUMAIRA BAY seems overpriced though in this at around 18/1 at the time of writing. Roger Varian knows how to get more out of these 4yo handicappers and he demonstrated several pieces of strong form last season that suggest he’s well handicapped still. He’s interesting having been gelded with the headgear taken off. Ray Dawson has won three of his last seven races at Ascot, including one of these big 7f handicaps last season so that’s a bonus too. There have to be some doubts about stall 11 but Roger Varian did win the last renewal of this race with Cape Byron who broke from stall 10.

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2 replies
  1. 10 Things You Didn't Know about Geegeez Racecards
  2. Chris J
    Chris J says:

    Hi Sam, fantastic preview once again 🙂
    Is your main focus when looking a race draw, pace and hot form? Do you ever look at instant expert for example?

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