Thursday 26 July 2018

Friday 27th & Saturday 28th July: Elarqam Back With A Bang

Saturday afternoon sees the main middle-distance summer showpiece, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot and we have a tasty bet for the big one itself as long as the ground comes in our favour.

It’s not all about the King George though with the quickest juvenile fillies around going in the Group 3 Keeneland Stakes as well as a big field of handicappers contesting the £150,000 International Stakes at the Berkshire track.

Up at York we’ll be witnessing the long-awaited return of one-time classic hope Elarqam in the York Stakes (Group 2), Mark Johnston and his team desperately hoping for a return to form before the son of Frankel gets back on the Group 1 trail.

We kick off with a pair of good value punts on Friday’s racing at Ascot though, both of which looking great value; here are the weekend’s best bets:

Friday 27th July

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3.35 Ascot (Valiant Stakes – Listed Race) – BESHAAYIR

Having been tipped up on these pages before but having disappointed her backers, William Haggas’ three-year-old filly was stepped up in trip to a mile last time in an Ascot handicap and finally showed what she is capable of with an authoritative victory.

She won that race ever so impressively despite drifting across the track and there is still plenty of improvement left in her in conditions she likes.  The main danger may well be Pontefract winner Clon Coulis who should also appreciate this fast ground, however our filly carries quite some confidence into the race.

4.10 Ascot (1m4f Handicap) – ATTY PERSSE

Roger Charlton’s four-year-old was well fancied to restart his career with a first time out win in the Old Newton Cup at Haydock and, though he was beaten that day, the Frankel gelding stayed on nicely for third and will have improved a fair bit for that run.

His overall profile is one of a horse who can keep improving well beyond the reach of today’s rivals, though First Nation in the same colours can himself do better this year but will be doing this without the benefit of a run.

The Charlton yard know their stuff when it comes to these middle-distance and staying types, as we’ve seen with Withhold of late, and so once again the yard will be very confident.

Saturday 28th July

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3.15 York (York Stakes – Group 2) – ELARQAM

Owners and trainers don’t get it right all the time, we know this, and we have the issue of this horse going up in trip to 1m2½f for the first time but Elarqam really could end up making his price of anything odds-against look silly.

If you asked the average punter how many times Elarqam has run, especially given that he’s from the Mark Johnston yard, they would take a guess at 6 or 7 I’m sure.  It is in fact 4, making him a very inexperienced horse but one with tons of improvement still to come and especially now he’s going up in distance.

His performance in last autumn’s Tattersalls Stakes at Newmarket (Group 3), arguably on unsuitable ground, was excellent as in its own way was his fourth to Saxon Warrior first time out this season in the 2000 Guineas where he was beaten half a length by Derby winner Masar and beat Eclipse winner Roaring Lion home.

That form is rock solid and he was always going to go up in trip, so a performance of around 120 and right in the Group 1 category would be more than enough to take care of Euginio and Forest Ranger and if he manages it, his price for the Juddmonte International will tumble.

3.40 Ascot (King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes – Group 1) – CRACKSMAN

There has been a lot made of Cracksman’s participation in this race, or the potential lack of it at the time of writing, for although he has been declared at the overnight stage his owner is still not keen to run unless the ground eases somewhat.

On that score we trust the trainer and so the deal here is that if Cracksman does run, we back him.  I am of the view that it was as much the 1m2f trip that got him beat behind Poet’s Word at Royal Ascot as it was the very fast ground while, although he prefers a little juice, he simply wants more of a stamina test than his Prince of Wales’s Stakes conqueror who was more suited by overall conditions that time.

Cracksman slammed Poet’s Word in last season’s Champion Stakes and although that was also a 1m2f race, it was run in stamina sapping conditions and it’s worth noting that Cracksman got upsides with two furlongs to go before making his staying power really count.

He may not be as good as that on faster ground, but the mile-and-a-half trip could make all the difference as well as the fact that John Gosden noted that his stable star was too busy looking at the fillies and not concentrating on racing at the Royal meeting so some improvement is expected anyway.

If he fails to run, Sir Michael Stoute’s other runner CRYSTAL OCEAN could be the one to be on rather than Poet’s Word, again because he will see out the trip much better than his pal though his price wouldn’t be much to write home about if Cracksman defects.


Thursday 19 July 2018

Saturday 21st July: Haggas To Show Class In Irish Oaks

Saturday sees more classic action as the Irish Oaks takes place at the Curragh, though despite the usual strong presence from the home team it could be an English raider taking home the prize this time around.

Domestic action is strong and we see the return of a potential Group performer for Godolphin at Newbury as well as perhaps witnessing the coming of age of a very promising sprinter in the Hackwood Stakes at 3PM.

We have five value bets in all on what looks like a great racing day, starting with a decent Listed race.

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1.50 Newbury (Bet365 Stakes – Listed Race) – EMOTIONLESS

This five-year-old has been kept in training by Charlie Appleby for Godolphin and we may be about to see why as he makes a long awaited return to racing in Britain.

Looking top class as a juvenile when winning the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster in very good style, things went wrong for the son of Shamardal after and his short three-year-old career was particularly underwhelming.

Having started to look something like his old self last winter in Dubai, he hit another problem and afterwards was gelded and held back for this year.  In January he put forward his best performance for well over two years when chasing home Benbatl at Meydan, the winner going on to Group 1 glory and as long as the change of scenery suits him he should go well.

He’s been held back until now for a return which for some is a negative but even a conservative guess at his performance level now puts him a few pounds ahead of Autocratic and as long as the price doesn’t collapse too much he should be worth a punt.

2.25 Newbury (JLT Cup Handicap) – QULOOB

Despite the presence of Willie Mullins’ Stratum, one of last season’s big handicap improvers Quloob could be the one to be on now getting a step up to a two-mile trip.

Having landed a hat-trick last summer before being beaten narrowly by Dubawi Fifty, Quloob started his season in June but in truth the signs were there that he would take some getting ready and so was sent off a 6/1 shot before running perfectly well in fifth behind Amazing Red.

The extra couple of furlongs and the extra time on his back means we should see a much improved performance this time from Hamdan Al Maktoum’s colt, one which should put him somewhere around the 100-105 mark so off a handicap rating of 98 he has a cracking chance and looks excellent value under Jim Crowley.

3.00 Newbury (Hackwood Stakes – Group 3) – EQUILATERAL

Charlie Hills’ sprinter has been thought of as a potential Group 1 horse ever since his devastating debut last season at Bath, the son of Equiano holding entries in the Nunthorpe and the Haydock Sprint Cup.

His grandsire is Oasis Dream and he behaves in such a similar way and after putting the now 102-rated Newmarket Winner Foxtrot Lady well and truly in her place at the beginning of the season (8 lengths, easy) it would have been no surprise to have witnessed him win a Group 1 already.

Alas he wasn’t at his best at Royal Ascot behind Eqtidaar in the Commonwealth Cup but he can bounce right back to form in this with what could be a devastating performance all going well.  Projection and Yafta are more favoured for the minors than Wokingham winner Bacchus who won’t get quite the breakneck speed he did at the Royal meeting.

4.45 Newbury (Fillies’ Handicap) – CEILIDHS DREAM

It may be worth taking a chance on a couple of things here; taking the form of Ceilidhs Dream’s win over Sea Of Class literally and that the return to a mile for her will be what she needs.

Ignoring her performance at Ascot over a mile when she did not give her running, the mile trip is what Ralph Beckett’s filly beat Sea Of Class (see below) over at Newmarket and on a line through others in that race, she also looks like having a few pounds in hand on the admittedly improving Homeopathic, who rates the main danger.

Whatever her form in the spring tells us, we know she is better than her current handicap mark and so on that basis alone she is worth a bet, especially if she does not jump off favourite.

5.30 Curragh (Irish Oaks – Group 1) – SEA OF CLASS

It’s unusual to see the runaway Epsom Oaks winner as third choice in the market for this race, however a look at Forever Together’s profile overall suggests she was a tad flattered by conditions in early June and simply outstayed rather than outclassed Wild Illusion.

Her stable mate Magic Wand on the other hand put the same horse to bed in these conditions at Royal Ascot and in fact was seen as the yard’s main Oaks hope after her prep at Chester in May only for conditions to go against her.

She is the biggest danger here no doubt, however the progress still to come from William Haggas’ Sea Of Class is something I can’t get away from and she looks the one to be on.

A very good debut in the spring has been backed up by two very facile Listed wins, the style of which has led to her being underestimated on paper for what she has achieved and she still has plenty of improvement to come now she’s being dragged along by better horses in a proper Group 1.


Friday 13 July 2018

Saturday 14th July: Eqtidaar To Be Crowned July Cup King

A very busy day of pattern action around the country with Newmarket taking centre stage for the conclusion of the July Festival, the Group 1 six furlong July Cup being the highlight.

We have a value bet in that one as long as bets from Ascot and York on what is a high class day with plenty of Royal Ascot runners now making their return to the track.  Here are six good bets for Saturday’s action:

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1.05 Newmarket (Superlative Stakes – Group 2) – QUORTO

As usual in these races it’s all about untapped potential and there is more of that in the once-raced Quorto than in anything else in the field.

Extremely well backed on debut here to put in a taking performance, he beat Handmaiden that day who in turn was runner-up to another well-liked Charlie Appleby newcomer on Thursday with the form looking very strong.

He beat that decent field easily first time out and is bred to want further so this step up to seven furlongs is another positive meaning he should have too much for the likes of Cape Of Good Hope and the improver Daafr whose Newcastle run is likely to have been underestimated by most.

1.20 Ascot (Summer Mile – Group 2) – BEAT THE BANK

Andrew Balding’s miler was behind a couple of these rivals when sixth in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot (Group 1), but that was very much an improved run from his seasonal opener and he gets better as the season goes on so it seems.

He was thought of as a Group 1 horse last year and while it hasn’t happened for him just yet, it surely still could and so running in a Group 2 without penalties for what he achieved last season could see him scoot a couple of lengths clear in this given that the rest do look like Group2/3 performers.

Lord Glitters and Century Dream are feared most, but watch out for a potential upturn in Derby fourth Eminent’s fortunes now he is trying a new trip so long as his brain is working ok.

1.40 Newmarket (Bunbury Cup Handicap) – MUBTASIM

Last season’s Jersey Stakes third has spent the last year in racing purgatory; considered too high in the weights for handicaps and just not quite good enough to win Group races.  He very belatedly makes a handicap debut here off a mark of 105 though and frankly I don’t think that alone is enough to stop him.

A quick ground, fast-run seven furlongs is utterly perfect for him and the booking of Donnacha O’Brien is a strange but good choice.  He may well go on to land this at the expense of Gilgamesh who has been well touted in the run-up to the festival.

1.55 York (City Walls Stakes – Listed) – MUTHMIR

Only the bad draw got Muthmir beaten last week and he is just the kind of sprinter you need to catch in hot form, which the 8yo is right now.

Even his 3lb penalty shouldn’t be enough to stop him with seasoned performers Take Cover and Mr Lupton perhaps not at their best while young pretender Stone Of Destiny was dragged along by a top class field last time and may not get the same sort of feel in this race.

2.15 Newmarket (July Cup – Group 1) – EQTIDAAR

This is a fascinating renewal even without Merchant Navy and Harry Angel, but it could be time for a new kid on the block to grab the baton anyway in the shape of Commonwealth Cup winner Eqtidaar.

Even at 12/1 his win at Ascot wasn’t a surprise to anyone in Sir Michael Stoute’s yard as this horse put in arguably one of the top two or three debut performances last season as a juvenile and then just took a little bit of time to reach his early potential.

He has not reached his peak just yet, despite now being a Group 1 winner, and will have conditions perfectly to his liking.  That can’t necessarily be said for favourite Blue Point who perhaps had his five furlong King’s Stand win set up for him by Battaash while US Navy Flag isn’t guaranteed to take to sprint distances.

Aussie raider Redkirk Warrior may well not be as good as his reputation while Dreamfield is not a no-hoper here, but still looks a little way off Group 1 level just at the moment.

2.35 York (John Smith’s Silver Cup Stakes – Group 3) – DAL HARRAILD

Despite having to come back from a 105-day break and a flop in Dubai, William Haggas’ five-year-old is now the best horse in this race and is one who arguably but in his best career performance over this course and distance last year, despite the fact that he has an improving overall profile.

Andrea Atzeni’s mount should have too much for this field with Scotland and Dylan Mouth perhaps the ones to give him most to do just as long as he’s ready to go now after his rest.

Friday 6 July 2018

Saturday 7th July: Derby Hero To Confirm His Superiority In Eclipse Showdown

It’s Coral-Eclipse day at Sandown on Saturday and although the mile-and-a-quarter championship race is by far the biggest on the card, it’s a competitive full day of racing in Esher with plenty of value bets to be had.

Watch out for the early start once again, something designed in recent weeks to ensure the racing does not clash too much with the World Cup in Russia, and we get going very soon with a punt in the five furlong Coral Charge at 12.20.

Haydock Park provides the supporting cast with the Lancashire Oaks potentially an important race for the middle-distance fillies in the context of this season and that could be won by a very familiar face.  Here are Saturday’s best bets:

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12.20 Sandown (Coral Charge – Group 3) – MUTHMIR

In the absence of a future star, such as last year’s winner Battaash, this looks a tight little race and it could be one of the seasoned performers getting his head in front in the shape of William Haggas’ superb servant Muthmir.

Winner of a Listed race last time out at Haydock Park, he likes these conditions and the title of Group 3 doesn’t scare me off even given his age as he is in the sort of form which looks like being enough to get the better of Judicial and Mr Lupton with Sir Michael’s Dream Of Dreams not likely to love the faster ground.

Clive Cox’s three-year-old Koditime is not out of this at a big price but may be best watched for now until we see the sort of improvement he is threatening, so it’s the old boy for us with Jim Crowley aboard.

12.55 Sandown (Coral Challenge – Handicap) – POUVOIR MAGIQUE

A stable like John Gosden’s doesn’t want to get a win into a horse to get into the Royal Hunt Cup just for the experience, they don’t need that, they do it when they feel their horse can win the big one so in trying just that at Newcastle we can second guess where this horse is at in terms of his development.

It went wrong on the tapeta and so his Royal Ascot run didn’t materialise, however he is back over a fast ground mile now and should have the necessary improvement within him to make this handicap mark look a little conservative.

James Doyle’s mount can take this ahead of Chiefofchiefs and usual suspects Escobar and Via Serendipity before perhaps moving on to better things.

1.10 Haydock (Lancashire Oaks – Group 2) – PRECIOUS RAMOTSWE

Having previously landed a gamble for us, Precious returns to action and is downed in trip but upped in class for this Lancashire Oaks test and she looks terrific value to keep her career on an upward curve.

Her win last time out in a York Group 3 was impressive given she probably didn’t want that entire 1m6f trip and so we can probably upgrade a performance which landed her a mark of 100.  That, plus the significant improvement trainer John Gosden gets out of these fillies leads me to think she can run right up to 108-110 now and that should be enough to land this prize.

The 4yo is by Nathaniel and the memories are still vivid of him winning the Eclipse in 2012 on the very same day his full sister Great Heavens (John Gosden) landed this very race impressively.  Horseplay and Aidan O’Brien’s Flattering are likely to give her most to do.

2.10 Sandown (Coral-Eclipse – Group 1) – MASAR

Unfortunately for the sport overall, oh so seldom do we see a good Derby winner take the not-so-easy route next time and actually confirm their superstardom however this time around I feel it’s different and the excellent Charlie Appleby could be the one to supervise the feat with his Epsom hero Masar.

Having routed his opposition over a mile in the Craven Stakes, Masar was beaten comfortably enough in the 2000 Guineas behind Saxon Warrior before reversing the form and taking the Derby in good style over a mile-and-a-half.

On pedigree and running style I’d say this trip (1m2f) is his ideal and we can expect even more improvement now, something which would make him nigh unstoppable even in a quality Group 1 field.

Old foe Roaring Lion may also appreciate this trip but we pretty much know what to expect from him now and his best would put him close, though he would be relying on Masar not quite giving his running in truth.

Aidan O’Brien is doing the sport a massive favour by being brave enough to send Saxon Warrior out again only a week after his Irish Derby disappointment and he is another who will appreciate this trip, however running again so soon is almost certain to mean we don’t see the best of him and so he is likely to be found wanting once more.

Forest Ranger is a potential improver for Richard Fahey but may or may not be up to genuine Group 1 level while Godolphin’s second string Hawkbill is carrying some confidence into the race and is the main hope of the older generation, however in these fast conditions he is unfortunately liable to be half a stone below his maximum.

3.20 Sandown (Coral Marathon – Listed Race) – PLATITUDE

A lot has been made of whether horses improve first run or second run after a wind operation, personally I take little notice of the information at all though it was striking that at 20/1 this Platitude won first time out in a handicap at Goodwood in May having had said surgery.

The performance could be owed as much to a change of scenery and routine as anything else though, now with Amanda Perrett rather than Sir Michael Stoute this 5yo has more to give and looks the only potential improver in the race to perhaps score at the expense of last year’s winner Nearly Caught.