A host of big names are in action at Ascot on Saturday for the flat season's traditional finale, Champions Day. Tony Calvin takes a look through the antepost markets...
Going change may alter Champion Stakes line-up
There was a change on the going front this weekend with regards to Saturday's Champions Day meeting at Ascot, with the ground now soft and heavy in places (or vice-versa depending on whether it is the straight or round track you are talking about).
The weather claimed nearby Windsor's Monday card, but the forecast suggests a relatively rain-free week from now on - famous last words - so I imagine we will looking at no worse than soft for the meeting. I wouldn't have thought it would dry out too much, though.
That, of course, is music to the ears of connections of Cracksman in the Champion Stakes, not least because it isn't ideal for his stablemate Roaring Lion.
Roaring Lion clearly handles good to soft perfectly well, as his juvenile exploits underline, but his phenomenal progress in the second half of the season has come on quick ground. Any more rain, and the horse could well be directed to The Breeders' Cup.
However, it sounds like a decision on his participation at Ascot won't be made until Thursday, so that leaves two markets in relative limbo.
Crystal clear who's the better bet
I'm not sure I would be in a rush to back Cracksman at around 11/8, though.
Yes, I know he would take some stopping if returning to the form of his seven-length defeat of Poet's Word in the soft in this race last year, but we haven't seen him since Royal Ascot and connections are talking about trying him in headgear at the weekend. The horse apparently worked in cheek pieces on Saturday morning, so that is an unknown.
It was a big surprise to see Crystal Ocean as big as 5/1 and 9/2 in the marketplace on Monday morning, having woken up to the news that Ascot had seen 40mm of rain, as he looked as attractive an each-way bet as you will get in an ante-post race.
Once the bookmakers in question belatedly stirred from their slumbers - and it took them a while - the price soon disappeared. The field lacks a great deal of Group 1 depth and he is bang up there with the market principals on form if you believe the official handicapper; indeed he is rated 129 to Roaring Lion's 127 and Cracksman's 125.
He was rated 129 after his narrow defeat in the King George - when he traded at [1.01] in the run, and the front pair pulled nine lengths clear of Coronet in third - and the rain will bring his stamina into play. He has won on soft, and bypassed the Arc for this after chasing home Enable at Kempton.
He clearly wasn't given a hard race there, giving 8lb to the dual Arc heroine, and he could be very hard to kick out of the frame at the very least on a track we know he goes well at. The current, win-only, [4.3] on the Exchange is the biggest price you will get now, however.
Hard to go overboard about Laurens
Roaring Lion also has the option of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, in which he is third favourite in some lists (and second, in others) - Queen Anne winner Accidental Agent was ruled out of the race on Monday morning - behind Recoletos and the supplemented Laurens.
Moulin winner Recoletos is just about the right favourite in my book as, whisper it quietly, it is very hard to rate Laurens' four Group 1 wins this season that highly. That kind of talk can get you into big trouble on social media.
Sure, she probably didn't get the credit she deserved for her defeat of the injured Alpha Centauri in the Matron Stakes and her run-style will never lend itself to wide-margin victories, but it really is hard to go overboard about her head defeat of Happily in the Sun Chariot.
But we know that a mile on softish ground should be fine for her, and you know you are going to get a run for your money with her. A healthy 22 have stood their ground for this race, though.
Stradivarius finished only third in the Long Distance Cup on soft ground last season, so the weekend downpours were a big negative for him in his bid to continue his winning run in the 2m Group 2.
He may be the stand-out stayer but I wouldn't be in a rush to get stuck into him at odds-on at the moment, even with just nine in opposition as it stands. Aidan O'Brien has five of those, and all have claims, most obviously impressive Irish St Leger winner Flag Of Honour.
Tin looking very solid
There are no such ground worries for The Tin Man in the Champions Sprint, as he has an excellent record here - with course form figures of 1481154 - and that includes a win in this very race in 2016.
He also comes here fresh from another Group 1 victory in the Sprint Cup at Haydock on heavy ground - though he has plenty of form on good ground and faster, too - and he looks a very solid 3/1 chance.
Ayr Gold Cup dead-heater, and soft-ground performer Son Of Rest has been supplemented for the race in this 17-strong field at the five-day stage, which sees last year's winner Librisa Breeze as the [6.4] second favourite.
St Leger runner-up Lah Ti Dar is another short-priced favourite in the Fillies And Mares - and her task has been made much easier following the sudden retirement of mud-lover Bateel - but the presence of Vermeille winner Kitesurf and Coronet wouldn't have me rushing to back her at around 6/4 just yet.
Balmoral favourite has a superb profile
Raising Sand looks a very solid favourite in the Balmoral, and he is 4/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook (the exchange market is not up just yet).
He sprung back to form with a vengeance when bolting up over 7f at the course last time and is 1lb well-in even with a 6lb penalty. He is equally effective over this longer trip and virtually all of his best efforts have come at this course, with two of his three wins coming over a mile.
He does race off a career-high mark here, which is an obvious concern in such a competitive handicap, but he does have a superb profile, with the rain an obvious bonus for his ante-post backers. I suspect he will probably be around the same price on the day, though, and with enhanced place terms, no doubt.
Back on Friday. Have a good week.