2.00 Ascot – Leo Bancroft Signature Haircare Handicap
We have a tricky 1m4f handicap to start proceedings at Ascot on Saturday. Alan King’s Grumeti won this race three years ago off a mark of 83. Having had injury problems since then, he has enjoyed a full national hunt campaign this year, winning twice over fences as well as being placed in Grade 1 company at Sandown. He will have race fitness on his side and as we saw with Chatez at Doncaster earlier in the season, King is adept at preparing his horses for big prizes on the flat. He will need a career best performance to win off this mark but he has enjoyed his best campaign for a while so it isn’t out of the question.
Ed Dunlop’s Oasis Fantasy looked a horse on the up when winning at Goodwood last June and although he ran Battersea close at Ascot last time, he never really built on that effort. On his return to action racing as a gelding for the first time, the four-year-old looked to be travelling well at Thirsk but couldn’t finish off his race sufficiently to pick up the leaders. He should strip fitter for that run and should be able to resume his progression now gelded.
However, the marginal preference is for Luca Cumani’s PENHILL who has joined from the yard of James Bethell for which he was successful three times last season. He did struggle in the very top end three-year-old handicaps at the end of last season but he is only rated 86 and he could prove a good deal better than that. If he is fit on his return to action he looks a little less exposed than some of his rivals and should go close.
2.20 Lingfield – Betfred Mobile Oaks Trial Stakes (Listed Race)
Aidan O’Brien’s WEDDING VOW looks likely to head the market having chased home the 1000 Guineas winner Legatissimo at Gowran Park in April. She looks likely to be suited by the step up to 1m4f for the first time and as we have seen at Chester this week, the Ballydoyle stable have quite a bit of strength in depth. She also has form behind Dermot Weld’s Zannda who was far from disgraced in the Pretty Polly last week and she looks the one they all have to beat.
Ralph Beckett has saddled the last two winners of this race and also took the race with Kayah in 2007. This time around he has Bellajeu who although she was beaten in three starts at two, given her stout pedigree she should be suited by the step up to 1m4f for the first time. She was a little unlucky to get beaten on her final start when fitted with a hood for the first time and she could outrun her sizeable odds.
Another interesting runner is Supreme Occasion who improved with each run last season and her fourth placed finish in the Group 2 May Hill Stakes was an excellent run behind the smart Agnes Stewart. She is far from guaranteed to stay 1m4f but should get 1m2f and she arguably has the best form coming into this contest.
2.35 Ascot – Carey Group Buckhounds Stakes (Listed Race)
Brian Meehan’s yard has enjoyed a fine start to the season and they will be hopeful that the lightly-raced Agent Murphy can continue his improvement this season. Having won his first two starts he was narrowly defeated by a smart prospect of William Haggas’ over ten furlongs here in July. He was a solid third behind Battersea when stepped up to 1m4f for the first time in September and he looks worth a try in this company. There still looks to be plenty of improvement in this four-year-old and given the way the yard has started their season, it would be no surprise to see him go close.
Saeed Bin Suroor’s Winter Thunder looks likely to be popular having been steadily progressive last season, winning three times. He conceded weight to all but one of his rivals when winning on his final start at Newmarket off a mark of 105 and he shouldn’t need to improve too much to get his head in front in Listed company. He was still showing signs of inexperience last season suggesting that further improvement could still be to come and he looks to have solid claims here.
However, perhaps the most interesting runner is David Simcock’s FELIX MENDELSSOHN who was purchased from the yard of Aidan O’Brien over the winter. He got off the mark at the second attempt when winning at Navan in October and there should be more to come from this well-bred colt. The return to 1m4f should be no problem for him and he could be the horse with the most potential in the line-up.
2.55 Lingfield – Betfred.Com Derby Trial Stakes (Listed Race)
John Gosden’s CHRISTOPHERMARLOWE has already landed one trial for the Derby this term and he attempts to maintain his 100% record here. He has been largely impressive in all of his races to date although the performance of Future Empire at Chester yesterday would be a concern. That said, he is obviously a colt heading the right way and although we have yet to see just how good he is, this will teach us a little bit more about whether the 1m4f trip will pose any problems. He is currently a very short-priced favourite for this contest and it will be interesting to see how the Derby market reacts should he get his head in front here.
However, I feel he faces a good rival in the shape of Luca Cumani’s Bartholomew Fair who bolted up when stepped up to a mile on his second start last season. He was subsequently disappointing in the Autumn Stakes but was reported to have had a foot problem and connections are confident that he didn’t give his true showing that day. He should improve for the step up in trip this season and should the favourite run below expectations, it would be no surprise to see this colt pick up the pieces.
3.10 Ascot – Garrard Fillies´ Handicap
James Fanshawe won this race in 2010 courtesy of Alsace Lorraine and he saddles Spirit Raiser in this year’s renewal. She got off the mark at Newmarket in June but suffered a setback after that meaning that he missed the rest of the campaign. Her trainer is hopeful that coming from a late-maturing family this filly will improve and prove quite a bit better than her mark of 80. She receives weight all round here and it would be surprising were she not involved at the finish.
John Gosden’s Solar Magic looked to have improved over the winter as she chased home Lady Dutch in Listed company on her return to action at Kempton. Despite being keen early on, she stayed on to take second close to the line and having been off since August, she is entitled to come on for that run. Gosden currently has his string in great form and he looks to have another strong candidate for the frame here.
The most intriguing runner in the field is AMAZING MARIA who has joined the yard of David O’Meara from Ed Dunlop. This filly was highly thought of last year and having missed the 1000 Guineas with a setback, she went straight to Epsom where she ran below expectations. She was disappointing twice more at the end of the campaign but as we have seen in the past, O’Meara is excellent at reviving a horse who has lost its way. She has to carry top weight here but connections are hopeful that they can get her back in the form that saw her win a Group 3 as a juvenile. With that in mind, she looks likely to give a bold showing on her first start for her new yard.
3.45 Ascot – Totescoop6 Victoria Cup
With the ground likely to stay as good for tomorrow’s action, it may be best to favour the high numbers (stands side) when considering the draw.
In a wide open race, the first one I would like to mention is David O’Meara’s Highland Acclaim who having been rapidly progressive at the beginning of last season, finished it off running at the top end of handicap company in races such as the Ayr Gold Cup. He also turned in two good efforts over course and distance, finishing fifth when beaten only half a length in September before finishing sixth on ground slower than ideal in October. He is only four and connections are confident that he can develop into a Pattern performer now that he has learnt to settle in his races. He is drawn favourably in 28 and although he is high enough in the weights, he looks to have a solid profile coming in here.
Of the lesser exposed horses, William Haggas’ Dream Spirit is of plenty of interest having had only four starts to date. Having maintained his 100% record in a Newmarket handicap in August where he beat John Gosden’s Maverick Wave, he was beaten on his final two starts but shouldn’t be written off just yet. This race has been highlighted by his trainer as one which should suit the four-year-old and he is understandably popular in the market.
David Elsworth’s SPECULATIVE BID also looks a major player having won his first two starts at Kempton since returning from a lay-off. I felt he was worth more than the winning margin suggests when winning by a head last time and having only been raised 3lb as a result, he can go close again here. He travels well in his races which is important in these big handicaps and if he can get the luck in running, it looks hard to see him missing out on the frame.
Similar to Amazing Maria in our previous contest, Russian Realm has joined the yard of David O’Meara in the hope that he will revive the five-year-old’s fortunes. He had some good form last season in similar contests to this so would not need to improve too much to get involved in the finish. Richard Hughes has been booked to ride and despite being more exposed than some of his rivals, he can go close off a mark of 95.
4.20 Ascot – Totepool Racing´s Biggest Supporter Maiden Stakes
Richard Hannon’s King Of Rooks looks the most interesting of the newcomers having been purchased for 67,000 guineas as a yearling. The Acclamation colt is related to the smart pair of Sandslash and Samara Valley and having already introduced a smart newcomer here for these owners last month, they look to have another smart prospect here.
Mark Johnston has made a fast start with his juveniles and he saddles Beaverbrook who was fourth on his debut at Windsor despite being very green throughout the contest. He was slowly away and never travelled with much fluency although there were signs of ability as he made up some ground at halfway. He was sent off favourite on that occasion suggesting that expectations were high and he should be more clued up on the back of that run.
However, the marginal preference is for Mick Channon’s JAADU who was something of an eye-catcher when running behind Zebstar at Newmarket last Sunday. He was trapped wide throughout from a low draw and that cost him his chance but he was only beaten two and three-quarter lengths at the line. The yard has won this race four times since 2007 and on the back of his debut effort, this colt should benefit from the run and can give his trainer a fifth success in the race.
4.55 Ascot – Rosling King 25th Anniversary Handicap
Peter Chapple-Hyam’s Eternity’s Gate was well fancied to make a winning return to action in April but having been slowly away, he could never get involved and despite staying on close home, he could only finish fourth. It could be that the gelding was badly in need of the run but also the step up to six furlongs here should be in his favour. He should also strip fitter for that run and if he can continue his improvement from last year, he looks to have solid claims.
Also of interest is Eve Johnson-Houghton’s Panther Patrol who ran into a very progressive rival at Windsor a few weeks ago. It looked as though the five-year-old might make all that day and despite the winner drawing well clear, it was still a fine effort. He has been drawn well here in stall 20, which should give him a chance of breaking quickly and getting over to the rail. George Downing takes a valuable 5lb off his back and as he arrives here in form, he warrants plenty of respect.
The preference is for Brian Ellison’s MON BRAV who races over six furlongs for the first time since winning off a mark of 78 in October. He has fallen to a mark of 75 and it is interesting that Richard Hughes has been booked to ride. The pair teamed up to win with Balty Boys at the Guineas meeting and they look likely to go close once again here.