Timeform's Tony McFadden previews the Interntational Stakes, a seven-furlong Heritage Handicap which takes place at Ascot on Saturday...
The way Speculative Bid shaped in the Hunt Cup would suggest that the 10 lb rise he incurred for winning the Victoria Cup under a hands-and-heels ride was by no means prohibitive, and he comes out with an excellent chance on Timeform weight-adjusted ratings...
The presence of unbeaten Derby winner Golden Horn in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes has added much lustre to the traditional mid-summer showpiece, but it has rather nullified the race as a betting contest. Golden Horn, arriving on the back of an impressive success against his elders in the Coral-Eclipse, is unsurprisingly a short-priced favourite for the King George - currently trading at 1/2 - and he ought to prove much too good for his rivals. Rather than extolling Golden Horn's virtues - or attempting to take him on - we will instead concentrate on the International Stakes, a seven-furlong handicap in which the bookmakers are currently betting 10/1 the field.
At the head of the bookmakers' lists is Speculative Bid, a progressive, lightly-raced four-year-old who completed the hat-trick with a smooth success over C&D in the Victoria Cup before shaping better than the bare result implies in the Royal Hunt Cup. Speculative Bid was only fifth at Royal Ascot, beaten nearly three lengths, but he would have made a better fist of things had he not been hampered at a crucial stage, losing valuable momentum as the race was unfolding a furlong out, and it's worth noting that he did keep on well once in the clear. The way Speculative Bid shaped in the Hunt Cup would suggest that the 10 lb rise he incurred for winning the Victoria Cup under a hands-and-heels ride was by no means prohibitive, and he comes out with an excellent chance on Timeform weight-adjusted ratings. He also holds an entry in the Betfred Mile at Goodwood six days later, which clouds the issue slightly, but he looks tailor-made for the International Stakes and will hopefully take his chance.
Speculative Bid's main rival - in terms of ratings and the betting - is the Ed Walker-trained Bushcraft. Like Speculative Bid, Bushcraft has progressed well this season and has managed to stay a step ahead of the handicapper, completing his hat-trick in likeable style at Newcastle last month. Having missed the entirety of his three-year-old campaign, Bushcraft remains lightly raced and could yet have even more to offer, while his hardy attitude will continue to stand him in good stead, though one question mark against Bushcraft is his ability to see out the trip. Bushcraft shapes as if he'll stay seven furlongs, but all his winning this season has been achieved over six, and a strongly-run seven furlongs at a stiff course such as Ascot will place more of a premium on stamina than Bushcraft is used to. He may well relish this stiffer test, but we don't know that for sure, whereas Speculative Bid has achieved his best form under similar conditions to those he'll face on Saturday, and that is enough to tilt the scales in his favour.
With £150,000 on the line, the International Stakes unsurprisingly has a competitive look to it. Buckstay is sure to have his supporters following a gallant effort in defeat in the Silver Bunbury Cup, a race he arguably could have won granted a better gallop. The strong-travelling Buckstay was held up in the early stages at Newmarket, but there wasn't a great deal of pace and a prominent position was a big advantage when they finally quickened two furlongs out. Buckstay finished strongly having made his move from further back than ideal but failed to overhaul the victor, Mr Win, by a head, and he will be well suited by a return to the Ascot straight course, where hold-up tactics are often seen to advantage. There aren't many negatives for Buckstay and he looks likely to give a good account, but he doesn't boast a great strike-rate and may struggle to deal with a couple of progressive rivals.
Ayaar failed to meet expectations in both the Hunt Cup and the Bunbury Cup, but he had previously run out an impressive winner of the competitive Spring Cup at Newbury and still appeals as being a well-handicapped horse. In mitigation, Ayaar did travel well for much of the way in the Hunt Cup but arguably paid the price for being the first horse to come out of the pack and close down the leaders, while there's less of an obvious excuse for his below-par performance at Newmarket, other than the July Course sometimes playing against the strengths of hold-up horses. It would be little surprise to see Ayaar bounce back as a strongly-run seven furlongs may prove his optimum, but you do need to forgive his latest effort.
The three-year-old King To Be is by no means certain to get a run - needs plenty to come out as things stand - but he would be an interesting contender at a big price if he did make the cut. King To Be was slightly disappointing when coming home in mid-division in the ultra-competitive Britannia Handicap at Royal Ascot, but he had previously looked an unlucky loser when narrowly failing to get up close home in a seven-furlong Goodwood handicap, and the form of that race has worked out well. King To Be remains relatively unexposed having made just the six starts and is worth noting if making the final field.
To summarise, Speculative Bid may top the market but quotes of 10/1 underestimate his chance, such has been the positive impression he's created this term. The likes of Ayaar, Buckstay and Bushcraft are creditable challengers, but it's difficult to pick holes in what Speculative Bid has achieved this year and he's a good betting proposition back at the scene of his hugely-impressive Victoria Cup success.
Back Speculative Bid in the International Stakes