1:35 Investec Out Of The Ordinary Handicap
This is usually a decent 3yo handicap over an extended 1m2f and the classiest winner by a country mile would be the dual Breeders’ Cup, King George and St Leger winner, Conduit. The chances of anything remotely in his class lining up are miniscule but it does feature three last-time-out winners and a number of other progressive types. I have plenty of time for the the William Haggas-trained bottom weight, Flippant, who made a successful seasonal debut at Chepstow in soft ground last month over a mile just getting up in the final stride so I would expect her to appreciate and improve again for this extra quarter-mile off just a 4lb higher mark. Black Shadow got off the mark in not the strongest-looking five-runner maiden I have seen at Goodwood but he did it well striking by 3½l and had previously finished second beaten a length to the subsequent Lingfield Oaks Trial winner, Honour Bound. The hat-trick chasing Al Busayyir has been well placed by Marco Botti to win handicaps at Beverley and Ripon but might find life tougher here off a 16lb higher mark than when successful in the first of those.
Of the non-last-time-out winners, Yenhaab is an interesting second contender for the Haggas stable. I liked his chances for a handicap at Newmarket on 2000 Guineas Day when he was fourth of seven and he fared best of the far side trio in an unsatisfactory race. He had previously won his Ripon maiden well and, like his stable companion, I see him improving for the step up to 1m2f. Hymenaois is the Hannon-Hughes representative and, after winning his maiden at the Lincoln Meeting, he struggled on his handicap debut at Sandown on softer ground so he deserves another chance on a better surface. What About Carlo handles testing ground and he revelled in that surface at Sandown and was well backed on a similar surface to win a valuable 3yo handicap at Haydock but could only finish ninth where the Mark Johnston-trained Lyn Valley finished a place ahead of him. It is hard to know what to make of that disappointing run except that maybe a 9lb rise found him out. Johnston also runs the two at the head of the weights with Fallon on Stars Over The Sea and De Sousa aboard Double Bluff, both of which are back in handicaps after finding Derby trials way beyond them. I would like to see how the Johnston runners fare on the opening day of this meeting as at the time of writing he is not firing as I would like to see. Stars Over The Sea was involved in a bunch finish in the so-called Derby trial here in April before being outclassed in the Chester Vase whereas Double Bluff only beat one home in the Lingfield Derby Trial. Zampa Manos is back to handicaps after finishing fifth in a Derby trial, the Dee Stakes.
CONCLUSION - the William Haggas-trained pair of Flippant and Yenhaab appeal most in a race that doesn’t appeal much.
2:05 Investec Woodcote Stakes
A Listed race over 6f for two-year-olds featuring nine declarations and wide open it looks too as chances can be argued for all bar Lady Ann Bugg. The other maidens are Fine Prince, twice a runner-up so it would be mildly surprising if he can beat six previous winners off level weights and Exentricity. The latter is trained by Mick Channon has won this race twice in the last decade and also trained the runner-up last year and she arguably has the best form having finished second to the National Stakes winner, Tiggy Wiggy, on her debut. Seventh in a warm looking Marygate Stakes on her next start, she was beaten again though when second at Goodwood when caught on the line over 6f on soft ground. This easier 6f on likely better ground could suit more. Richard Fahey runs Ballymore Castle (Ryan Moore) and Burtonwood (Adan Kirby) who have similar profiles in that they won on their second start after placing on debut. Burtonwood has run again since his maiden win when fourth in a novice race at Newmarket so Ballymore Castle appeals more having caught the eye when third in a Newbury maiden behind Kasb before winning at odds-on at the Chester May Meeting.
The Hannons have also won the Woodcote twice in the last decade and they rely on Baitha Alga who was well on top at Chester last week despite having to wait for a run and be switched. I don’t think it was much of a race he won (started at 8/11) but it is significant he represents Hannon who could have aimed a few at this. Lightning Stride and Red Icon complete the quintet of contenders who were beaten on debut but won on their second start. Lightning Stride was out the back on debut at the Guineas Meeting when running green but benefitted greatly from that experience when winning trapping fast at Leicester and was always prominent to win in the colours of Qatar Racing. Red Icon was 2¼l behind Ballymore Castle on debut whereas the winner had the advantage of a previous run and he built on that promise when making virtually all to win at Haydock on soft ground. The field is completed by Mambo Paradise who despite being the 16/1 outsider of four on her debut she won at Musselburgh before disappointing in a conditions event at Newburt when awkward leaving the stalls.
CONCLUSION - this is trappy but I would nominate Ballymore Castle and Baitha Alga as my two against the field.
2:40 Investec Coronation Cup (In Commemoration of St Nicholas Abbey)
There is no Ruler Of The World who suffered a slight setback earlier in the week but last season’s Epsom Classic form is represented by the Oaks winner, Talent, though I felt last year’s Derby and Oaks were both substandard affairs. Looking back at last year’s Oaks, nothing has come out of the race of any note and Talent has been beaten in three starts since, the best of which when second to Leading Light in the St Leger. This is also her seasonal debut (and just one of the last 29 Coronation Cup winners won on their seasonal return) and given it’s a smallish field, her stamina won’t come as much into play which is a big factor for a filly that was second in the St Leger and came from the rear to first in the Oaks as the pace was overly strong. I don’t even think she will fare best of the fillies as Ambivalent is the horse that I feel can give Cirrus Des Aigles most to do. Roger Varian’s Group 1 winner is continually under-rated but, although quirky, she found plenty when headed and then getting back up to win the Middleton Stakes at York last month. Prior to that she was 50/1 when third only beaten 2l by the dual Japan Cup winner, Gentildonna, in the Sheema Classic when Cirrus Des Aigles only finished half a length in front of her yet he is around six times a shorter price here. And quite why Ambivalent is double the price of Talent is hard to fathom and I can only put it down to punters being blinded by Classic form. Cirrus Des Aigles has since gunned down the brilliant Arc winner, Treve, in the Prix Ganay where he enjoyed a race fitness advantage over the runner-up, but this remarkable 8yo is beatable, and some horses take to Epsom and some don’t. It is also probable that 1m2f is Cirrus De Aigles’ optimum trip although he clearly stays 1m4f. Do you want to take odds-on about him? He’s not for me at that price.
The French have a long tradition in the Coronation Cup especially Andre Fabre who has taken a real shine to this race winning it on no less than six occasions and he runs Flintshire. Hands up, I backed him for the Arc last season after he impressed me winning the Grand Prix de Paris on Good ground but he was only fourth in the Prix Niel and eighth in the Arc, both on soft ground so underfoot conditions looks very important to him. And that is what makes this race difficult to weigh up 24 hours in advance with rain forecast. If it stays Good, then given the impression he made last July on such a surface and combined with Fabre’s sublime record in the race, then he is very interesting at a top price of 4/1 but if it turns soft, then the likelihood is he will run well below his best. Though that stat of just one winning seasonal debutant in the last 29 runnings is gnawing away at me. The German raider, Empoli, finished one place behind Ambivalent in Dubai just half a length behind Roger Varian’s mare despite being hampered in the early stages when Mars broke down so there is an argument that he can reverse placings with both Ambivalent and Cirrus Des Aigles as he was only beaten 2½l by the winner. He does have a problem with starting stalls though so if you like him he might be more of an in-running play if he consents to enter them without a problem. Just one career win in ten starts however suggests that he might be a horse to look to back each-way in a race at a big price rather than win at a single-figure price. The field is made up with Battalion, Joshua Tree and Beacon Lady who are all rightly 33/1+ shots.
CONCLUSION - Cirrus Des Aigles should be tough to beat and especially if there is rain about as that would go against Flintshire but, if the dead eight remain, then Ambivalent makes plenty of each-way appeal at 14/1 (still pay three for a place on Betfair if one comes out). If the rain stays away, I would rather back Flintshire at 4/1 than Cirrus Des Aigles at odds-on, but that’s a big ‘if’ at the time of writing.
3:15 Investec Specialist Bank ‘Dash’ (Handicap)
Twenty speedsters face the starter on the fastest 5f course in the world so being in the right position and getting a run are crucial factors. The pace that Evens Stevens demonstrated at York for 3½f last weekend was exceptional and he must have been 5l clear at one stage in a big field handicap which takes some doing. He was caught just inside the final furlong and finished in midfield but such blazing tactics will be better suited to this downhill 5f and drawn in stall 20 of 20 next to the rail, there is a chance he could steal this, especially if the ground stays Good. Steps, Caspian Prince and Smoothtalkingrascal are disputing favouritism. Steps has top weight and a 4lb penalty for his Listed race win at Haydock last week when just beating the re-opposing Eton Rifles, Caspian Prince won his only start at Epsom when making all against the rail and he is only drawn 2 places off the rail this time (though hard to think that he can lead Evens Stevens in the early stages) and he prepped for this with a good second at the Chester May Meeting and Smoothtalkingrascal is back to handicaps for the first time since he was nabbed on the line in last season’s race and is 3lb higher this time.
I managed to include Monsieur Joe at 25/1 for the equivalent race at the Dante Meeting who has a 4lb penalty here and the runner-up to him that day was Elusivity who has sneaked in here off bottom weight. The third that day, Top Boy, has since won a highly competitive sprint so it looks solid handicap form and on his only start at Epsom he was second to Caspian Prince in April after the winner made all and he is now 7lb better off for 2½l so he has his chance. Running quickly through a few of the others, David Nicholls targeted this race in his prime and he runs Addictive Dream who was fourth behind Swan Song at the Chester May Meeting in a conditions race and is now 3lb better off with the winner. He likes to lead and could head them off down the middle of track. Lady Gibraltar is a course-and-distance winner who may have just been prepping for this when sixth on her only start this season in Monsieur Joe’s race at York. She was only beaten 2¾l on that return to action as an unfancied 33/1 shot without her usual visor, but the headgear is back on today and they have turned to Joey Haynes to take off 5lb today unlike at York.
CONCLUSION - Evens Stevens is exposed but is the pace-and-draw combination horse and, at around 20/1, Lady Gibraltar makes each-way appeal back to a course she has won before with the visor back on, an apprentice taking off 5lb and coming here off a promising seasonal debut. Elusivity would also be high in my thoughts.
4:00 Investec Derby
If you are a class-horse, favourite backer, then this year’s Derby essentially boils down to at what price does Australia become a bet as the 2000 Guineas form is working out great so far, we have subsequently been told he didn’t have the perfect preparation for Newmarket, he is expected to be even better at 1m4f in line with his breeding by a Derby winner out of an Oaks winner and, although O’Brien has been guilty of talking the talk before stating horses are the best he has ever had, he has been backing up that assertion with Australia based on sectional times at home unlike with his other four Derby winners. The niggles are (1) despite his breeding if he shows so much speed then 1m4f has to be a slight question mark, (2) if the forecast rain arrives, will he like give underfoot and that will also place more emphasis on stamina and (3) the always unknown, and especially pertinent for a horse who will start near Evens, will he handle the track or find the occasion all too much? I suppose we can also throw in the fact he has actually lost two of his four races. My idea of backing Even money shots is in far less competitive races than the Derby so he would need to be over 2/1 for me to back him (though I wouldn’t want to lay him at 6/4) so I will be looking at each-way alternatives. I backed Orchestra to place at 11/2 after he beat the subsequently-supplemented Romsdal by a nose in the Chester Vase (value for more as Moore was easy enough on him in the final furlong) as I loved the way he travelled through the contest, he looked like a horse that would improve plenty for the experience and I expected Ryan Moore to keep the ride. Needless to say I am therefore disappointed that Moore rides Geoffrey Chaucer instead, which has to be a negative for Orchestra (now ridden by Seamie Heffernan) as that certainly suggest O’Brien thinks Geoffrey Chaucer is the better horse and he has convinced Moore as much. Moore seemed to be pretty sweet on Orchestra after Chester so Geoffrey Chaucer must have been showing plenty at home to warrant Moore getting off him and the money that came a fortnight ago now looks even more significant. O’Brien wouldn’t be drawn on commenting that Geoffrey Chaucer had put up a brilliant gallop that forced his price to be halved but, interestingly, he didn’t deny it either. The fourth O’Brien runner is Kingfisher who won the Dee Stakes but he has plenty to find with Fascinating Rock in a Group 3 in April. He is entitled to take his chance but there are no vibes he could surprise.
I would have still been with Orchestra as the best on-the-day each-way play had Moore kept the ride and, although it wouldn’t surprise me if he did hit the frame, with the best jockey around lured into riding Geoffrey Chaucer instead, I prefer Ebanoran who beat Geoffrey Chaucer in the Derrinstown Derby Trial but was disqualified in favour of Fascinating Rock. All three meet again and purely on the basis of that race, Geoffrey Chaucer is too short a price having finished back in third. He was cut off at a crucial point but I am fairly sure that Ebanoran would have beaten him anyway. That was Geoffrey Chaucer’s seasonal debut so he was probably a bit ring rusty and should come on plenty but I just wonder if he is more of Fame And Glory type in that he is a solid stayer in the making who therefore may just lack the zip of others. There is nothing between Ebanoran and Fascinating Rock on Leopardstown form but I prefer Ebanoran to progress more of the pair as he is more lightly-raced (albeit by one run) and, being related to two Gold Cup winners, he is bred to also improve for another 2f. For a horse with stamina genes, I especially liked the way he was able to quicken to hit the front over 1m2f which might suggest that is his trip, but if he can also quicken over further, which he is bred to do, he will then be a live player. John Oxx doesn’t send many horses over to Britain but he has an outstanding strike rate when he does (and he has won the Derby twice) and I think he is worth an each-way pop at 16/1+ and let’s hope he can keep straight this time so I would prefer there not to be a camber for him. Fascinating Rock was given more to do at Leopardstown off not a strong gallop so did well to almost beat Ebanoran before being awarded the race in the stewards’ room but that was his third start of the season and I see Ebanoran improving more.
Kingston Hill has been well supported in the last week as the forecast was for soft ground but the going was officially Good for the start of Friday’s card so unless the rain arrives, he looks a drifter. If it does hammer it down, he will probably start second-favourite judged on his Racing Post Trophy win last season on soft ground. Despite a mile on g/f ground being against him in the 2000 Guineas, I got the feeling his connections were disappointed with him so he would not really be for me. The best of the British could be the Dante form given the winner, The Grey Gatsby, then won the French Derby so there is every likelihood that True Story didn’t run as moderately as many suggested when third at odds-on. However, he is quirky which I don’t like for Epsom and he was beaten into second by Arod so I prefer the runner-up of the pair who I felt was given too much to do. I liked Western Hymn’s victory over Snow Sky (who then won the Lingfield Trial) but he did look green when winning at Sandown next time, though bad ground wasn’t a help in this respect, and I am concerned Gosden wanted to get another run into him to give him more experience. He felt that he couldn’t so decided to gallop him at Epsom instead where his head carriage worried me underlining that this may come a little too soon in his career. I might have taken a chance had I not seen that gallop, but that gallop combined with his stargazing at Sandown concerns me. The fact that Gosden has also supplemented the Chester Vase second, Romsdal, could suggest he is not confident that Western Hymn will be mentally ready yet. Hughes comes in for the ride on Romsdal who almost nabbed Orchestra on the line but I always felt that the winner was travelling better and holding him as Moore was trying to give Orchestra as easy a time as possible. It’s 33/1 bar and although many a huge-priced horse has hit the frame in the Derby, I am struggling to make a case out for the remainder.
CONCLUSION - Australia could be the second coming but backing around Even money shots in the Derby is not for me. I hope Orchestra proves Ballydoyle wrong but Moore switching to Geoffrey Chaucer looks ominous for his winning chances so I will instead take an each-way chance on Ebanoran at 16/1 who has a turn of foot, is bred to stay and each-way chance on Ebanoran at 16/1 who has a turn of foot, is bred to stay and trained by a man which a superb record on his British raids.
4:50 Investec Zebra Handicap
A Class 2 handicap for older holders over the Derby trip which will take some working out. Four-year-olds have won six of the last eight runnings and the pick of their seven representatives look to be Dare To Achieve, Stomachion, Miss Marjurie and Pasaka Boy. Dare To Achieve made a winning reappearance in a Listed handicap at Hamilton which was his first start since being gelded. He looks the type to keep progressing for William Haggas. Sir Michael Stoute’s Stomachion won a 1m2f handicap at the Guineas Meeting in a manner that suggested he would enjoy this longer trip and he has not been harshly dealt with only being upped 5lb. The concern is that he has hung left on his last two starts so a course with a camber may not be ideal but he might be progressive enough to overcome that. Miss Marjurie was a very good second to Mighty Yar on her seasonal reappearance at 33/1 in a better handicap than the one Stomachion won at the same meeting and I wouldn’t be too bothered that the winner then disappointed last week. The 3lb claimer Oisin Murphy takes over from Luke Morris which eradicates the 3lb for which she went up. Pasaka Boy was good fourth of 18 to the progressive Clever Cookie (won again since) last time so he also enters calculations. He does like a cut in the ground so if any rain has got in during the course of the day, then he becomes much more interesting. The other four-year-olds are the course winner Mirsaale, Blue Wave and Stepping Ahead.
Of the older horses, Kuda Huraa makes most appeal for Alan King who does well with his few Flat runners. He was fit from hurdling when he lined up at Windsor last month to finish third of seven but I am more interested in his head-second over this course and distance last season as he has clearly shown a liking for this idiosyncratic track. He is off a 1lb higher mark today so the probability is that more progressive four-year-olds will have his measure. David Pipe is another primarily jumps-based trainer having a bash and he runs the bottom weight Red Seventy who will only carry 7st 9lb with Kieran Shoemark’s claim on top. He was consistent during the jumps season that just passed and should be more at home over this 1m4f than Chester’s tight 1m2f on his return to the Flat last month.
CONCLUSION - Miss Marjurie and Stomachion would be the pair I like most but Pasaka Boy would also come right into this if the rain arrives.
5:25 Voyage By Investec Handicap
This 6f sprint handicap used to be a David Nicholls benefit but he has gone quiet in general over the last couple of seasons and has not won this race, where the draw should be important rounding a bend, for nine years and he runs Lewisham who returned to action with a good third at Thirsk when clearly not fancied started at 40/1. The likelihood is that he was considered in need of that run to start at such an SP so there is plenty to like about his chance if he improved as much as I expect, especially from a favoured low draw in stall 3 on his second start for Nicholls having moved from Ralph Beckett. Also favourably drawn is the top weight Ashpan Sam in stall 6 under Ryan Moore after two good runs in sprints at York and Goodwood. The race in which he was fourth behind Monsieur Joe at the Dante Meeting looks strong handicap form and then he was only denied by a head at Goodwood by the favourite. He is well drawn for a front runner and could take some catching if the ground rides faster than when he was caught close home on soft ground on that occasion. Normal Equilibrium wasn’t far behind Ashpan Sam at York and ran even better at the Knavesmire on his next run but he will need luck in running for a horse who doesn’t race bang on the pace drawn in stall 1.
Bondesire arrives here in great heart with two wins and a second this season and he has only finished out of the frame in four starts from 15 runs. Arctic Feeling races from 2lb out of the handicap but being a previous course-and-distance winner on which Richard Fahey has declared a first-time visor having run well in first-time blinkers last time out, I can see him running well back to a mark lower than for his last success. Others I would throw into the mix are Desert Command who was fourth in the same race in which Ashpan Sam was second at Goodwood having only been beaten a short-head on his only run at Epsom and Fair Value who is tried in a first-time hood and especially if Caspian Prince and/or Elusivity run well in the Dash earlier on the card having finished third to them here two starts back.
CONCLUSION - if Ryan Moore can lead and get the fractions right from his low draw on Ashpan Sam then he might be hard to peg back but I was taken with the return of Lewisham and this is a race his trainer targets so he makes most each-way appeal.