It's time for York's Ebor meeting, and thank the lord (any lord, not necessarily the Good Lord) for that! After a week's racing which, thus far, could go down as a candidate for the worst in living memory* (*strong recency bias here), it's great to be underway with some proper stuff.
If you've not yet picked up on the overview profile post, you can read that here: STATS TO NOTE FOR YORK GLORY
Key points are that high has a mild bias, and that Yorkshire trainers (bar Richard Fahey) can be expected to over-perform.
Right, let's get on with it, starting with what is ostensibly a beastly five and a bit furlong sprint contested by twenty runners... but in which I have a curiously strong fancy.
1.55 SYMPHONY GROUP STAKES (Handicap) (CLASS 2)
Yes, twenty high class sprint handicappers go to post, and I'm using a couple of pointers to narrow things down. Firstly, I'm taking a keen interest in Yorkshire trainers - as I've said - and second, I'm veering towards high draws - as I've, erm, said. (This post should get less repetitive as it goes on).
Let's get my fancy out of the way, and then we can discuss some of the others. I really like Mick Easterby's Above Standard here. Mick loves Loves LOVES a winner at this meeting, something he's managed in each of the last two years, and Above Standard represents his best chance in the four renewals of this race, where his Ancient Cross finished sixth for the past two years.
Above Standard is a five to five and a half furlong sprinter in the form of his life. Indeed, he won three of his last five runs and been third and fourth in the other two. His only defeat from his last three runs was last time out when fourth in the Stewards Cup consolation race over six furlongs. He just got done for toe in the last 75 yards there, so this slight step back in trip is ideal.
He'll love the ground, he's won here in a big field over five poles, and he again has a favourable draw in eighteen of twenty. Yes, I think he's a very good bet around 9/1 to get the meeting off to a flyer. I'm on!
Last year's winner led home three horses aged five and six, but was himself ten years young. Tax Free tries again this year, aged eleven, and he has an even better draw than Above Standard, in 19 of 20. He won this last year off 92 and has 93 now. Obviously, he's not getting better at his venerable age, but he has plenty in his favour and will have been lined up for this, which might explain his two recent poor runs. At 25/1, it's not impossible that he could give the sentimentalists something to blub about at the outset...
Ancient Cross tries again and, though he will be coiled for this, he has been for the past two years and failed to pass five on each occasion. He's nine now, and I doubt it, I very much doubt it.
Another high drawn hoss of interest is Kevin Ryan's Bogart. This beast finds himself extremely well handicapped on the basis of a fourth in a Group 2 here last year. True, he ran a little more poorly in the same race this year, but off a mark of 97 - having been 110 this time last year - he could take them along for a fair way. He's got winning form at the track and in a big field too so no worries on those scores either.
Selection: Above Standard 9/1 bet365
Each way tickle: Tax Free 25/1 William Hill
Others of interest: Bogart 10/1 bet365
2.30 ACOMB STAKES (Group 3)
The first two year old race of the week, over seven furlongs, and a race won by Dundonnell last year. Just the six go to post, and Kevin Ryan's The Grey Gatsby might justify favouritism. Bred for a mile, he did it well over six of today's seven furlongs here on his debut: waited with early, he was going away at the finish. The third was four lengths back that day and there were two and a half lengths and more to the rest. Good then that both the placed horses won next time (the second in a Class 2 Glorious Goodwood maiden), giving the form a really sound look.
Indeed, that second placed horse, Brazos, re-opposes here, having improved since their initial duel. But The Grey Gatsby has the more scope to improve and, though a skinny enough price, I'd expect him to confirm the placings.
Of more interest is the once-raced Godolphin winner, First Flight, a taking winner of a Newbury maiden over six. That was a couple of weeks ago, and the way he recovered from a slow start to put three lengths of daylight between himself and the next horse home was impressive. The question is around what he beat, with the three subsequent runners from that race all being well beaten.
Nevertheless, First Flight could do little more than hack up after missing the break, and the extra furlong may bring about further improvement.
Il Paparazzi showed tremendous progress from first to second start when running away with a Class 4 course and distance maiden, by five lengths. The third and fourth have won since, from just three subsequent runners, and this chap - from an unfashionable yard - might be the value at around 7/1.
Most likely winner: The Grey Gatsby 13/8 BetVictor
Possible each way value: Il Paparazzi 8/1 Paddy Power
3.05 GREAT VOLTIGEUR STAKES (Group 2)
The pick of the St Leger trials, the Great Voltigeur Stakes, has featured such recent winning alumni as Sea Moon, Rewilding and Youmzain, so it's a really good heat. This year, the race revolves around one of the biggest hype horses of the season, Telescope. I'm not saying he's not a superb horse: he might be. No, I'm saying he's never shown anything on a race track to justify being a 6/4 shot in a race like this.
He won a maiden last year (and was beaten in one), then this term he won a three runner noddy event (third ran as though amiss, and second eased over a furlong out), before being beaten at odds on in a Group 3. That was over a little bit more than ten furlongs and breeding suggests he should be better over this longer trip of a mile and a half. He's priced on reputation over achievement and that's the sort of nag I like to take on, win or lose.
Obviously connections are respected (well, the trainer anyway; I think Harry Herbert, head of Highclere, is a bit of a wind machine), but the value must lie elsewhere, and with proven form allied to the promise of progression.
Secret Number is the one for me. Beaten two lengths by stablemate, Cap O'Rushes (re-opposes), in the Gordon Stakes - another St Leger trial - he was absolutely brutalized in his run there, and jockey Silvestre de Sousa must have that in his worst ten rides list. Granted a clearer run this time, which is like saying granted night follows day such is its certainty, he should reverse placings with Cap O'Rushes, and at 5/1, I think he's a decent bet to win.
Earlier in the season, he'd won a Listed race at Meydan and then ran a good third to Lines Of Battle in the UAE Derby. He took a bit of time to get it together back in UK, but now he looks ready to move forward and would surely have been shorter for this if SdS hadn't botched his steering so comprehensively the last day.
Cap O'Rushes was fourth in the Irish Derby prior to taking the Gordon Stakes and that's the best form in the race, but there's certainly a hollow look to the form with a 33/1 poke finishing third, and Derby winner, Ruler Of The World, significantly under-achieving.
The rest probably don't matter, though Ballydoyle's seasonal debutant, Foundry, is worth noting in the market.
Selection: Secret Number 5/1 bet365
3.40 JUDDMONTE INTERNATIONAL STAKES (Group 1)
After that tasty starter, we get to chow down on the dribblefest that is the Juddmonte International. Run over ten furlongs, it sees tip top miler, Toronado, take on top tip top ten furlong horse, Al Kazeem. Chuck in the Irish Derby winner, the Queen Anne Stakes winner, and the King Edward VII Stakes winner, and you have one very exciting race.
The pace angle is uncertain, but might come from Trading Leather, a horse that stays further and pretty much always races in the front rank. Al Kazeem too is a stout stayer and, as such might be inconvenienced if there's no early clippety-clop. By contrast, Toronado, who is a doubtful (or at least unproven) stayer at ten furlongs has a striking turn of foot and might be most suited by a steady tempo.
Hillstar is quite evenly matched with Trading Leather on their last time out King George second and third, and there probably won't be much between them again. Hillstar has been very highly regarded by Sir Michael Stoute for a long time, and is finally justifying his lofty reputation in a way that Telescope might have begun to do 35 minutes previously. He improved again that last day and shouldn't be inconvenienced by the drop back to a mile and a quarter.
Toronado, like Hillstar and Trading Leather, receive a healthy enough eight pound weight for age allowance and that should also assist in leveling the playing field.
Declaration Of War can't be easily dismissed, even though he's probably due a break after a very busy summer. In any case, he's been beaten by both Toronado and Al Kazeem and, even at the bigger price, it is hard to foresee any sort of form reversal with one of them, let alone both.
This race gets filed under 'watch and enjoy'. The market rarely leaves much value in such high class, established form races, and this is no exception. Despite the established form, there are two pivotal unanswered questions:
1. Where will the pace come from?
2. Will Toronado stay?
Given the shape of the market, it's got to be a no bet race.
4.20 LANSTONE BUILDING CONSERVATION STAKES (Handicap) (CLASS 2)
A two mile handicap with loadsarunners, as Harry Enfield's epoch-defining character might have bragged. Despite the huge field, this has been won twice by the favourite and twice by a Yorkshireman. All four were aged four or five, as were three of the four runners up, and that seems the age range in which to focus.
It's a very trappy heat, of course, and there are plenty that look handicapped up to the hilt. Those which I quite liked on profile, but that fit the 'handicapped to the hilt' bill, include Party Line, Eagle Rock, and Flashman.
The likely jolly, Broxbourne, was bidding for a hat-trick when slipping on the bend in the Shergar Cup at Ascot last time. In the circumstances, she did very well to be beaten just two and a half lengths and, with stamina assured, she looks pretty likely to run her race again. Homeric was the main beneficiary that day, reversing form from Goodwood, and distance turnaround of six lengths is fairly easily accounted for by the incident suffered by Broxbourne at Ascot. Logically, then, it will be hard for Homeric to finish in front of Broxbourne here: at least, that's the way I see it.
Wyborne is an interesting runner for Brian Ellison. Whacked with a rating of 85 for a Wolverhampton all weather maiden win, he took a bit of time to get going in handicaps. But a step up to two miles has seen two far more competitive starts, and he's weighted closely now with Eagle Rock. In Wyborne's favour, however, is his greater scope to improve for a wily old stable.
At a massive price is Crackentorp, a winner at this meeting in 2011 when a 33/1 shot. He'll be the same sort of odds this time around and, as an eight year old, has little left in the tank, but he's at his favourite track and ran a fine race in the Northumberland Plate as recently as two starts back, when only beaten six lengths, and he was second in that race back in 2012. Obviously it's a (quantum) leap of faith that he can come right back to his best, but he's dropped to 89 and won the last of his three York races off 93 last Summer, so stranger things have happened. Trainer Tim Easterby will have him hard fit for the day.
A fiendish race, and Broxbourne looks a robust market leader, with Wyborne and Crackentorp a couple at prices (the latter a huge price) against the top end.
Selection: Broxbourne 6/1 Ladbrokes
Each way: Wyborne 12/1 BetVictor, PP
Miracle outsider: Crackentorp 28/1 BetVictor
4.55 BETVICTOR.COM STAKES (Nursery Handicap) (CLASS 2)
And the last leg of the placepot will be this big field juvenile handicap. Winners at 33/1 twice and 20/1 in the last five years attest to its ferocity as a punting puzzle, and stakes should be kept to minimal levels. One point to note is that six of the nine winners of this race were Yorkshire-trained, and the runners up in the other three renewals were too.
That arguably tenuous angle would give us a shortlist of eight: Suzi's Connoisseur, Tanseeb, Ifwecan, Tiger Twenty Two, Morning Post, Ventura Quest, Instant Attraction, and Thornaby Nash.
Only two of the nine winners actually won last time out which, while hardly a negative for those looking to double up, does allow us some scope to tickle a longer priced nag. Starting with the biggest priced of the Yorkshire-based horses then (I know, it's contrarian), we'll work through until we find a couple for whom cases can be made.
Morning Post is a 33/1 shot trained by Kevin Ryan, a man with a great record at the meeting. This fellow has run his two best races over six furlongs, but even so, it's asking a lot for him to beat all of these I'd say, despite more to come and a strong enough run in the hotly contested Newbury sales race. Next in reverse market order is Instant Attraction, of Jedd O'Keefe's, but he's stepping up hugely in class and that's not the route even the bigger priced winners in recent times took.
Thornaby Nash has been beaten in three Class 5 maidens and, again, that's not enough to believe he can win this, unless we allow for a good stone of form enhancement.
Then we come to Tiger Twenty Two and, although he's trained by Richard Fahey (a leaker of cash over the years, albeit the trainer of last year's 33/1 winner), he ticks numerous boxes. Considered good enough to run in a pair of Class 3 maidens over course and distance, he had to await his first handicap start - also over this piste, and in today's Class 2 - to win. The form has taken a boost with the runner up going in since, and he's had a little break during which he might have matured physically.
Suzi's Connoisseur steps up in trip for the first time on his sixth start and as a two time winner already, it could eke out a bit more. He has three fair runs at this grade, and would hardly be a surprise result. But I'm just a tad uncertain about that extra 220 yards he's traveling.
Ifwecan is a tempting proposition. Fourth in the Listed Woodcote Stakes, he was outpaced and a touch outclassed over give furlongs in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot, but ran a blinder in fifth - beaten just a length - in a similar contest at Glorious Goodwood. He could be a pace angle too, though there are plenty of speedy protagonists herein.
Tanseeb completes the Johnston trio, and he was second in that Goodwood nursery (winner Flying Bear re-draws battle lines too). He's been a very consistent animal, and that's his problem: he likely has nothing up his sleeve against some probably better handicapped rivals.
That leaves Ventura Quest from the Yorkshire corner, but I can't have a two race newbie in a street fight like this. 4/1 is way too short and if he wins, fair play. This is another type I'll always field against.
Returning to the Flying Bear Goodwood form, perhaps the horse to take from there to here is third-placed finisher, Jazz, who was finishing fastest of all under a hand ride in the last furlong. Steve Drowne rode then, Jamie Spencer - one of the main men at this meeting - rides now. 14/1 is a teasing offer.
Richard Hannon has run nine horses in this in the last seven years (none in the first two years it was run) and has yet to enjoy a better placing than sixth. This is a bit of an afterthought meeting from the much more important Glorious Goodwood, and his pair here help to make the market. The same is true of Mark Johnston, whose trio form half of the next half dozen or so in the betting. This, I contend, offers value around whichever of Flying Bear, Jazz, Blurred Vision, Les Gar Gan et al.
For me, I'll throw a couple of pennies at Jazz and Tiger Twenty Two.
Token each way tickets: Jazz 14/1 bet365, Tiger Twenty Two 14/1 BetVictor
I hope your Ebor meeting day one wagers go well. If you've a fancy, leave a comment and let us all know the 'good thing'! 🙂