Day 3 of the four day Ebor meeting, and the last of my previews this week, you'll be sad/unconcerned/delighted* (*delete as applicable) to learn.
Six races and 108 declared runners cocks a snook at the downward trend in field sizes and nods appreciatively to the York Racecourse executive, who put on proper prize money, a varied and stimulating race programme, and have excellent facilities for punters and owners. Chapeau.
Of course, with quality and quantity in equal measure, finding winners will be trappy; but, as ever in such circumstances, one first place will subsidise plenty of also-rans...
We start at the usual time, five to two, for the usual challenge, an impossible twenty-runner handicap. Let's crack on.
1.55 Handicap (Class 2, 1m4f)
The forecast is dry and the going should be good, maybe slightly quicker, for day three. The deliberations on this 'ere page are based on that projection.
A nice bit of pace on here, with Croquembouche, Emerahldz, and Only Orsenfoolsies perennial pack leaders. Up York's looooong straight, it is asking plenty for any of the trio to stay in front, and I expect something from towards the rear may prevail.
Chancery, a facile winner on Tuesday, steps up a quarter mile under a six pound penalty. His hold up style is expected to suit, and although this is also a step up in grade, David O'Meara's nag won this in 2013 and was only three and a half lengths back last year having missed the break a touch. It is hard to see him not going well again.
One I certainly want to keep onside is the progressive win machine, Pressure Point. Keith Dalgleish learned plenty from his time as stable jockey to Mark Johnston, for whom he rode 141 winners off 830 starts and actually recorded a level stakes profit.
Ever the punters' pal, Dalgleish pitches at a solid 14-15% per year, and is having another fine season. Pressure Point has won his last two in this grade and four of his last six, a sequence which began with an easy win off 70 in a Class 5 handicap - what a bet he was that day!
The thing with this one is that he looks like he doesn't want to be in front too long, and with pace aplenty in the field Philip Makin can deliver him with a nice late run to hit the frame again over a course and distance where he's finished 214 this season.
Sir Michael Stoute runs Top Tug, for whom the booking of Frankie Dettori is interesting. Expected to do a bit more over course and distance when only sixth back in May, he was a touch unlucky and not knocked about when a close fifth over a shorter trip at Goodwood last time.
He should be cherry ripe now, and his trainer is in good order, so another big run is expected. He does just give the impression of being a little one paced.
Lots more with good chances but I'll just touch on a 'back class' story a moment. Ransom Note was rated as high as 117 after winning the Group 2 Joel Stakes in 2011. Now eight, he's dropped two stone (!) in the handicap in just six runs.
Twenty pounds of the descent was due to a three year break from flat racing, when he failed to stay hurdle trips in between times. He had a prep race a month ago, finishing a length and a bit fourth in a soft ground Class 3 Newmarket handicap, as a 33/1 shot.
We know from Glorious Goodwood that Nigel Twiston-Davies can ready one for a big Festival on the flat and I simply cannot resist a sniff win and place on a horse who could be absolutely miles well in if retaining any of the old sparkle.
I'm happy taking two against the rest in this mob, my pair being 14/1 Pressure Point and 25/1 Ransom Note at opposite ends of the 'obvious' spectrum.
2.30 Lonsdale Cup (Group 2, 2m 88yds)
Part of the British Champions' Series of staying races, the Lonsdale Cup is a Group 2 over an extended two mile trip that places a premium on stamina and class.
The usual staying suspects - Big Orange, Clever Cookie, Trip To Paris, Quest For More, Simenon, Vent De Force, et al - lock horns once more, and that at least gives the collateral form mob a fighting chance.
Big Orange won the latest tear up, the Goodwood Cup, in a driving finish with Quest For More and Trip To Paris, the trio separated by a neck and a short head; Simenon was uncharacteristically well beaten.
Previously, Clever Cookie and Trip To Paris had looked the leading stayer players, with the former winning the Ormonde Stakes (Group 3) and a Listed race here. Both were at trips short of two miles, but as a five time winner in the National Hunt sphere he can be expected to improve for the additional range.
Trip To Paris is surely the slogger of the season. Seven runs this year have accrued form of 4111213, including the Chester Cup and the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, as well as that big run in the Goodwood Cup. He may have just been a little tapped for toe on the Sussex Downs, which if true would make the half mile-plus run for home on the Knavesmire right up his boulevard. He stays further and has a big chance.
Roger Charlton's Quest For More has been most progressive this year but looked to hold every chance when out-battled by Big Orange last time. Although it should again be close between them there is no real reason to expect a different result.
Tac De Boistron must surely have it soft, and will surely not get it soft. As such, though he is undoubtedly being targeted at an autumn career, he's place lay material to my eye for people who are into such things.
Of more interest is Mizzou, a progressive fellow who ran no sort of race last time in the (Ascot) Gold Cup. Judged on his earlier efforts, he comes right into this, and so too for similar reasons does Vent De Force at a bigger price.
Vent De Force was unlucky when second to Mizzou at Ascot in the Sagaro Stakes over this trip, and he beat Trip To Paris in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown next time, again over two miles. With just ten career starts to his name, it is far too early to write him off as not good enough at this level.
It's a wide open heat with most of the ones to have run against each other recently bracketed between 9/2 and 8/1. So to see Hughie Morrison's Vent De Force at 14/1 means he is the value bet, with Morrison bagging a handicap winner here on Thursday.
3.05 City Of York Stakes (Listed, 7f)
Seven furlongs on the dogleg, and eighteen are slated to start in a Listed event. It's open to three-year-olds and up, and the Classic generation have a pretty moderate record.
Specifically, according to Horseracebase.com, 3yo's have won four times since 1997, from 59 starters (7%) and placed 27% of the time. Compare that with four and five-year-olds, who have won 13 times in that period, from 78 runners (17%), and placed 38% of the time.
Tentative favourite, in a race where they currently bet 7/1 the field, is Richard Pankhurst. Aged three, he was prominent in the 2000 Guineas market - and backed by me, sigh - before picking up a knock and not running. Trainer Johnny G has taken his time with him, presumably with an autumn campaign in mind, so race fitness has to be taken on trust.
On the one hand, if Richard P was to be good enough to compete in a Guineas, he should be plenty good enough to compete in a Listed event. On the other, he's been off a bloody long time - 426 days. I'll wait for Mr Gosden's thoughts and may have a little bit on if he is hopeful. Otherwise, he'll have to beat me.
While we're with the vintage crop, I must declare my affection for Fadhayyil. She's not exactly a winning machine - one victory from six starts - but she is talented, as demonstrated by her seconds in the Rockfel (G2) and Jersey (G3) Stakes, and her fifth in the 1000 Guineas.
Her attitude is a worry, because I felt she might have won the Jersey if she'd been braver. (I backed her there, sigh).
At a big price - 16/1 as I write - Glory Awaits is interesting. Winner of a chunky Turkish Group 2 pot at the end of last season, he's been highly tried this year since running second in a Listed mile contest at Donny on début.
Second in this race last year is the tell tale formline, as well as the fact both his domestic career wins have been over this range. Good ground is spot on, Kevin Ryan targets most of his better horses at this meeting, Glory Awaits is the top rated in the field, and has a decent draw in eight for his stalking style. He looks over-priced at 16's with bet365 offering 1/4 the first four.
3.40 Nunthorpe Stakes (Group 1, 5f)
A Group 1 sprint over the minimum, and there will be no hiding places in this monster field of twenty. Let's use the tools to see if they can help. Pace first...
As I've highlighted above, there is blazing speed at both extremes of the draw, and there's a solid pocket of pace between stalls four and eight. The balance of probabilities is that the track bias towards middle to low will be accentuated by a parallel pace bias.
Here's how Instant Expert looks: [Click image to view full size]
Clear fastest on ratings is the Wesley Ward speedball juvenile filly, Acapulco. After the Secret Gesture debacle in Chicago, it will be fascinating to see what sort of reception Irad Ortiz gets from the York crowd but, regardless, he's on a filly of immense promise and great speed. In receipt of most of two stone from her older rivals, she is a solid favourite, if an unexciting - on the face of it - betting proposition at 2/1 and shorter.
Willie Haggas' Muthmir is clear second on the figures, and I tipped/backed/cheered him when he scalped Take Cover close home in a Group 2 over this distance at Glorious Goodwood the last day. He does just look a bit marooned from a pace perspective, however, and will probably elect to drift across and sit in behind Cotai Glory, Mattmu and co.
Irrespective of the draw implications, his trainer is in sensational form having notched a brace on each of the first two days.
Goldream wants a rattling fast five, and won the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot under such conditions. It might not be quite fast enough for him here though he is an improved horse in 2015 and 16/1 is too big a price.
Mecca's Angel is a filly with the talent to win a Group 1 sprint over five, but... she appears to be heavily ground dependant. On soft, she'd be a bet. On good, it might just happen a bit quick for her.
Although Sole Power is probably past his best as an eight-year-old this season, he's still been running well. He returns to where it all began, bursting onto the Group 1 scene when grabbing the 2010 Nunthorpe as a 100/1 shot. He doubled up last year, and now bids for a Group 1 Knavesmire hat-trick. Frankie takes over from the retired Richard Hughes, and his job will be the same: thread the held up Sole Power through the eye of a big field needle.
With pace left and right of him, he looks to have an optimal draw for that job and, if he is to have a last G1 day, this may be his best chance. Fred is 9/1 and paying four places, and that looks worth filling him in with. [Ladbrokes and Hills are the same price, four places, too.]
At bigger prices, both Take Cover and Mattmu could be value. David Griffiths' Take Cover is a thoroughly gorgeous animal, who started life in Class 6 handicaps. We can all dream, eh? In more recent times, this veteran who shares a birthday with Sole Power (well, he's the same age and they all get a year older on January 1st) has won a Listed race over course and distance, and a Group 2 at Glorious Goodwood, again over five.
He was second in the same King George Stakes at Goodwood last time - just a neck behind Muthmir - and he'll fly tandem with Stepper Point up the stands rail. If that rail is as fairly treated as the far side, he could conceivably cause the cameraman focus issues in the run to the wire.
Mattmu has been in great form this year, earning a deserved Group success last time at the Curragh in G3 company, backing up a brace of silvers in a Group 2 and a Group 3. Indeed, he's only been out of the first two twice in a thirteen race career.
Stepping back to the minimum for the first time since three second placed maiden efforts in his first three career runs, Mattmu has plenty of speed and is drawn in that pocket of low to middle pace. He'll see out the trip absolutely fine as a multiple six furlong Group race winner, and 25/1 four places with Skybet again makes some appeal.
It's a cracking renewal of the Nunthorpe, with serious spice added by the presence of Wesley's wunner, Acapulco. She'll probably win, but I'm taking her on with 9/1 Sole Power and 25/1 Mattmu, both of which are too big and can be backed for a place down to fourth. I'm tempted to have a tiny bit on 16/1 Goldream as well.
4.20 Convivial Maiden Stakes (Class 2, 7f)
Three of the five winners have been priced 12/1 or bigger. You are on your own in this one, my friend. Not my thang...
4.55 3yo Handicap (Class 2, 1m)
3yo handicaps have also not been my thing historically, though I am starting to get the hang of them. Slowly. This, however, looks one for madmen and insider traders, such is its depth and competitiveness.
No fewer than fourteen of the score strong field are rated within ten of our top rated and, honestly, I won't be betting on the race. Wily Willie Haggas is probably the man, and Talyani is probably the plan, though don't completely rule out his other one, Hathal. Good luck if you're playing.
There will be no Saturday preview, as is now traditional. In this case, however, rather than writing a blog, I will instead be visiting Bournemouth, again. I have been there a few times in recent days, because my mother passed away on Sunday 9th. She will be laid to rest on Tuesday, and I will be saying goodbye to her tomorrow.
I only mention this for context, and I would politely ask you NOT to comment on the matter below. This is a racing blog, and I'd prefer comments are kept to that subject please. Thank you for your understanding.
The best of luck with your Friday/weekend wagering.