Ebor Handicap Preview: Tiger on the prowl

Tiger Cliff can go close in the Ebor for Lady Cecil

Timeform's Tony McFadden identifies two horses that should make an impact in the Ebor, which is set to be run at York on Saturday, August 24...

Based on his latest effort, an encouraging and somewhat unfortunate second at Royal Ascot, there is little reason to suspect that Tiger Cliff has reached the limit of his potential...

Few handicaps can boast a richer heritage than the Ebor; even fewer can boast richer reward for connections as the Ebor is now the most valuable handicap run in Europe. It could be argued, however, that this growth in prize money has had a negative effect on the race of late as connections, enticed by the big money on offer, target their highly rated but thoroughly exposed veterans at the contest, leaving fewer starting berths for the classic generation whose presence enriches the race as a spectacle. Although three-year-old participants once again look thin on the ground - Aidan O'Brien's Fortify is the only such horse that will get a run - there are a number of interesting four-year-olds, who may not have reached the ceiling of their ability, in contention this year.

Sitting at the head of the market for the Ebor is the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Opinion. As is so often the case with horses hailing from the Stoute yard, Opinion has raised his game as a four-year-old, stepping up on the promise shown last term by bagging a strong renewal of the Duke of Edinburgh Handicap at Royal Ascot. That two-length defeat of Stencive represented a clear career-best effort from Opinion, though his only subsequent start, when a beaten favourite in the Old Newton Cup at Haydock, indicated that a better performance down the line may not be out of the question, particularly when granted a stiffer test of stamina. Opinion's sire Oasis Dream may have delighted spectators at the Knavesmire with a scintillating burst of speed to win the Nunthorpe Stakes, but it looks as if Opinion has inherited plenty of stamina from the female side of his pedigree and it is anticipated that he will relish the trip. 

Opinion is a steadily-progressive horse from a top yard, and he has appealed as a likely contender for a prize such as this for quite some time. However, while he holds solid claims and looks sure to launch a bold bid, there are horses trading at bigger prices that look equally well treated and offer greater value at this ante-post stage. 

The lightly raced and progressive Tiger Cliff is one such horse. Tiger Cliff didn't make it to the racecourse until August of last year, but he has created a good impression on each of his six appearances, showing a greater level of form with each run. Based on his latest effort, an encouraging and somewhat unfortunate second at Royal Ascot, there is little reason to suspect that Tiger Cliff has reached the limit of his potential.

Although Tiger Cliff, a well-supported favourite, met with defeat in the Ascot Stakes, he emerged with his reputation enhanced, finishing runner-up having been the only horse that was able to make appreciable headway from rear in a falsely-run affair. That contest, though over an extreme distance, hardly turned into a searching test of stamina, and Tiger Cliff showed at Newmarket on his seasonal return that he certainly has the pace to cope with the demands of a competitive 14-furlong handicap. It looks as if Lady Cecil's four-year-old has been kept back specifically for this race - as the richest handicap in Europe it is a race well worth targeting - and with his exciting profile being such a rarity nowadays, Tiger Cliff has to rank high on the shortlist.

Tiger Cliff's Ascot conqueror, Well Sharp, has enjoyed considerable success this season since having his attentions switched from hurdling, romping home at York prior to defeating Tiger Cliff at Royal Ascot where, it should be said, he did benefit from a well-judged ride. It is entirely possible that Well Sharp may prove to be better than a handicapper - he holds a Group 1 entry in the Irish St Leger - but it is difficult to shake the impression that he was ridden to good effect at Ascot and, at a similar price, I would rather side with Tiger Cliff to reverse the form.

Another unexposed type that merits consideration is Bishop Roko. Roger Charlton's four-year-old did well to land a one-and-a-half mile Ascot handicap last month on only his fourth start, overcoming a steady pace and a less-than-ideal passage at a crucial stage of the race. It is interesting to note that he has won both of his starts on turf - his two defeats came on the Kempton Polytrack - and, while he isn't necessarily bred to appreciate 14 furlongs, a well-run race should play to his strengths. The fancy prices available on Bishop Roko disappeared soon after his Ascot success but 18.5 still represents fair value on a horse with the potential to achieve better things, and it is easy to imagine punters latching onto a horse with such a lightly-raced and exciting profile. 

David Simcock could launch a three-pronged attack on the Ebor as Sheikhzayedroad, Montaser and No Heretic all possess solid claims. The first named of that trio, Sheikhzayedroad, has proven to be a bit of a reformed character of late, still looking quirky and tending to hang in the finish but, crucially, going through with his effort and producing improved performances. Understandably, his price has contracted following his most recent run, an encouraging third in an admittedly substandard renewal of the Group 3 Glorious Stakes, and it could instead be worth focussing on his stablemate No Heretic.

No Heretic landed a good Newmarket handicap on his seasonal return and he has since built on that performance, producing his best effort yet when fifth in the Goodwood Cup last time. Instinctively you would treat such an improved performance with caution, but No Heretic did help to cut out a strong pace and he wasn't obviously flattered, so perhaps odds of 21.020/1 underestimate his prospects at York where the galloping track should be an advantage.

To conclude, the 2013 Ebor looks like a typically-competitive renewal although, in a pleasant change to recent years, some fairly unexposed and progressive horses look likely to make the cut. Tiger Cliff and Bishop Roko top the shortlist, both appealing as horses with a better effort in them than they have been able to show on a racecourse so far, while it would be a mistake to completely disregard the prospects of No Heretic, for all the reliability of his Goodwood form is a nagging doubt.

Back Tiger Cliff @ 13.5 to win the Ebor
Back Bishop Roko @ 18.5 to win the Ebor

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