It’s the beginning of June, a full nine weeks into the turf flat season, so obviously it’s a great time for the third and fourth of Britain’s five Classics. Sigh. Putting aside my anachronistic frustrations, this two-day meeting offers top class sport even if it is somewhat premature to be crowning three-year-old champions.
The problem with such raw talents is that they have yet to develop to their full potential, which makes wagering a game of projection: marrying what is known with what must be assumed. Nope. Give me an older horse handicap – marrying what is known with what can be deduced – any day of the week!
There are four (and two halves – 3yo+ handicaps with few or no members of the Classic generation) such heats to consider across Friday and Saturday, with the prospect of soft turf on Oaks day and drying tacky ground on Derby day muddying – literally – deliberations.
To support this attempt at identifying value solutions to tricky puzzles, illustrations from Geegeez Gold have been incorporated. Let’s get cracking…
2.35 Investec Click & Invest Mile Handicap (Class 2, 1m 113 yards)
This mile handicap will feel like further for three reasons: firstly, it is further, at an advertised mile and 113 yards; secondly, rail movement means we can add a further 12 yards to that (negligible unless/until your pick gets chinned on the line!); and thirdly, because of the sodden surface.
The mile start is just over a furlong and a half from a left hand turn which itself runs for about a quarter mile before runners enter the straight. The famous camber runs high to low from stands’ side to infield, and runners make for the quicker lanes on the high road when the going is soft.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that, ideally, we want a prominent racer drawn low: that type should get first run on the optimal racing line and, all other things being equal, prove hard to catch.
As can be seen from the pace map above, the middling-drawn pair of Medburn Dream and Masham Star should be able to get onto the lead with the rest of the field generally held up.
Medburn Dream is particularly interesting given his form profile:
Medburn Dream has two soft ground wins, a course win, and multiple victories at the trip and in this sort of field size. The reservation is whether he might just not have the class of some of these.
Whilst that niggle holds, a quick check of Full Form reveals that Medburn Dream is a course and distance winner, on soft ground, where he made all albeit in Class 4.
Franny Norton rode him that day, and gets on top again here. Trainer Peter Hedger has a decent record in the last couple of years with last time out winners, as can be seen from this trainer snippet:
Medburn Dream looks likely to make a bold bid from the front, and may take some pegging back by a field comprised largely of hold up horses, thus 5/1 is perfectly reasonable.
3.45 Investec Wealth & Investment Handicap (Class 2, 1m 2f 17yds)
Another race run over marginally further than advertised, the field will have an additional furlong in the back straight to organise itself. There is much less data with which to work this time, though Maratha ought to take them along from a low draw. He’s not expected to be good enough, however, with the likes of Ajman King in opposition.
That one is unexposed and progressive and, while he’s yet to win on soft ground, he has prevailed over course and distance twice, on good and heavy. [N.B. This image shows only one course victory, because it reflects handicap form only: AK’s other win was in maiden company].
He’s won in the style of a horse with a fair bit more to give, trainer and jockey have excellent track records, and he ought to take some stopping for all that 7/4 is normally unexciting in a handicap.
I take Ajman King to reign over these.
5.50 Investec Zebra Handicap (Class 2, 7f 3yds)
As one wag on twitter noted, the Zebra Handicap is anything but black and white; and the presence of four three-year-olds at the bottom of this 14 runner card adds a solid note of caution for me. They can be considered entitled to step forward half a beat more than their elders and receive no less than ten pounds in weight concession to boot.
At this distance, the field starts in a chute on the turn at the highest point of the track, and travels on the inside leg all the way into the straight where, again, they are likely to make a beeline for the stands rail. (The phrase derives from the behaviour of bees, unsurprisingly. When a forager bee finds a source of nectar it returns to the hive and communicates its location to the other bees, using a display called the Waggle Dance. The other bees are then able to fly directly to the source of the nectar, that is, ‘make a beeline’ for it. Source: phrases.org)
There is a much more even distribution of pace this time, with the well drawn Black Bess expected to take them into the straight and attempt to make all. Not only is she well drawn, but this daughter of Dick Turpin is also (fairly) well-named, notwithstanding that she’s actually brown and not black. Both trainer Jim Boyle and jockey Paddy Bradley are enjoying a good time of things at the moment, and the mare is three from three on soft ground. She also has a course and distance verdict but, as can be seen from the Full Form tab, all her wins have come in smaller fields she’s been able to boss from the outset. She also has a question mark about such a lofty race class.
Clubbable is a three-year-old daughter of Mayson, an under-rated stallion punching above his stud fee, and she looks both progressive and well suited to this challenge:
Clubbable comes here on a hat-trick and seems to have improved from two to three. Her trainer, Richard Fahey, is in good form at the moment which adds hope to what is no more than a speculative suggestion in what can be seen from the above is an extremely competitive race.
On to Saturday, where the going may be holding if the rain stops early on Friday as per the forecast. All race distances are as advertised. The first race of interest in the context of this post is the…
3.45 Investec Corporate Banking “Dash” Handicap (Class 2, 5f)
The fastest five furlongs in racing, though perhaps not this time in the anticipated sticky ground. Nevertheless, they run downhill from the stalls to the line, and it might be that a high draw, on the best drained ground, is plum. Interesting then, as you can see, that two of the most obvious pace angles – Just That Lord and three-time Dash winner Caspian Prince – are drawn one and two.
Caspian Prince has won this three times, a momentous achievement considering the depth of fields and fine margins of victory which characterize the Dash. His bid for a four-timer may (or may not, caveat emptor!) be impacted by a very low draw. Otherwise, he’s a pound lower than last year and should get clear sailing if jockey Adam Kirby wants to tack across, as Tom Eaves did from stall one twelve months ago.
Stall 1 or 2 has won three of the last five renewals of the Dash, but those were run on quicker turf. There is speed across the track, and it might be that something held up – though not too far back – will run down that phalanx of early pace.
The late runners against the Prince include standing dishes – or perhaps standing Dashes – Dark Shot and Duke Of Firenze. Both will need luck – heck, whatever you fancy will need luck – and the 6/1 about Dark Shot doesn’t feel awfully lucky, for all that he has an obvious chance. The Duke has a bit more meat about his price, a general 12/1 chance, although it is now five years since he claimed his own victory in the race. He’s been third in the last two renewals – behind the Prince both times – and races off the same mark as last year, when he was beaten less than a neck!
Those dual gold/bronze medallists are both nine now, however, and it might be that experience yields to youth this time. In that context, Bahamian Sunrise is a forward goer, drawn high enough to get a position close to the rail, and a course and distance winner as recently as late April. The soft side of good looks spot on for John Gallagher’s six-year-old, who remains off a feasible mark. The 25/1 which Paddy just allowed me to have for £8 (whoop!) won’t last but 16/1 is fair enough, especially if/when some of the firms offer an extra place (or two?).
It’s a wide open race in which I’m taking a punt for small change on Bahamian Sunrise. The regulars – Caspian Prince, Duke Of Firenze, and especially Dark Shot – are all likely to be thereabouts again.
5.15 Investec Out Of The Ordinary Handicap (Class 2, 1m 4f 6yds)
If you’ve done your coconuts on the Derby, what better way to get back on track than this nineteen-runner handicap over the same range as the Blue Riband?!
As you’ll know by the time they leave the traps for the 5.15, having already watched the Derby, the field snakes first right and up, then hard left and down before lurching into the straight. Depending on how much rain falls between now (Thursday afternoon) and late Saturday, they will stay against the far rail (dry) or tack across to the stands (wet). Either way, the propensity for trouble in running is obvious in such a big field.
Grandee is a lightly-raced son of Lope De Vega, trained by Jessica Harrington in Ireland prior to a £23,100 switch to David O’Meara last October. An obvious non-stayer in the Chester Cup last time, connections are having a lot of fun as they rock up now on Derby day. Their lad, second in a similar distance/going/class handicap at Ripon previously, has a prominent run style and is drawn highest of all. That should give pilot Danny Tudhope first dibs at the first dog leg and enable him to hold a position into the sweeping left-hander. From there we’ll see if he’s good enough and, with just thirteen spins of his wheels, including in last year’s Irish Derby, he’s an interesting proposition. No prices are available at the time of writing.
Ryan Moore rides Richard Hannon’s Across The Stars, and this one is sure to be popular. Tenth in Harzand’s (2016) Derby, he went on to win the Henry VII Stakes at Royal Ascot later that summer, but has lost his way a little since. He has dropped a commensurate amount in the weights, meaning he’s now rated a stone below his 3yo peak. He too is drawn high.
It’s a trappy race, not one to go mad in, and my tenner each way will ride on Grandee.
5.50 Investec Asset Management Handicap (Class 2, 6f 3yds)
This is more like it. A big field sprint handicap around the turn. Actually it’s around half of the turn, as they begin from a chute midway across the top of the horseshoe. Stall position may be less important than run style as riders attempt make a tangent across the arc and into the straight.
Alas, the pace picture is not clear. Not at all…
Terentum Star looks to have plenty in his favour. A good berth from which to catapult into the home straight, aided by slower starters left and right, enhances a chance already rosy when considering the race conditions. All of ground, class and distance are spot on so, while he has to prove his ability on this quirky strip – all six career wins have come on straight tracks – he has a fair chance of conceding weight all round. With regards to the course constitution, jockey Kevin Stott will look to make his mount’s route no more than a lazy leftward lean.
Ashpan Sam is another familiar face around these parts. He won this race in 2014 and again in 2015 before a couple of midfield efforts in the more recent brace of renewals. An overall course and distance string of 1182713 is impressive, and he is now three pounds lower than last year and eleven pounds below his 2015 winning mark. Of course, whether the fire still burns as brightly aged nine is open to question, but there is considerably less early speed in the field this term which will aid his attempt to navigate Tattenham Corner in front rank and vaguely unhurried fashion. He ran a cracker to be third on his first start for nine months a fortnight ago and could go well at a nice price (assuming he’s a nice price, no odds at time of writing).
Last year’s winner, Reputation, as well as Ian Williams’ ex-French recruit, Aces, are others to consider. But I’ll split my stake twice and twice again by going each way on the pair of Terentum Star and Ashpan Sam.