Tony Calvin: Two antepost plays for Saturday's action at Ascot

Can Tony scoop a big-priced winner or two at Ascot this weekend?
Can Tony scoop a big-priced winner or two at Ascot this weekend?

Tony Calvin returns to antepost tipping waters with a look at Saturday's big races at Ascot, and he has found a pair of big-priced fancies for your consideration...

"Desert Encounter is proven over course and distance, having won impressively on his only start at the track in May, and it could well be that he is still progressing, and at a fair rate. After all, he is lightly-raced for a five-year-old, as this will be just his 13th start."

Heaven's Guest looks well worth chancing at 34.033/1 or bigger - or 33/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook - to bounce back to form in Saturday's 150k Gigaset International handicap at Ascot.

At first glance, it takes something of a leap of faith to support a horse on the back of a 30-length last of 18 at York last month.

But the idea that the run was too bad to be true was cemented when reading the stewards' report on the BHA website about his run on June 17.

The jockey said that the horse stopped quickly and the trainer's representative at the course explained the reason why. Namely, "a post-race endoscopic examination revealed the gelding had mucus in its trachea."

The handicapper unfortunately clocked this, too, as he left the seven-year-old untouched on a mark of 94. But that was probably just as well, as otherwise he may not have got into this handicap.

I don't know for sure, but I am assuming he is an intended runner anyway, as he has run in this race for the last three years. He finished fourth in 2014, and then won it the following season.

Both of those runs came off a mark of 103 but he can run off just 94 here and, if he is fit and firing after a six-week break after coming back wrong from York - and a 150k pot suggests he should be - then he is clearly weighted to make his presence felt.

The ground at Ascot is currently soft at the time of writing, and there looks to be an unsettled forecast through the week, too.

So it is clearly a positive that his win in this race two years ago came in testing conditions. If it dries up, he has plenty of equally good, solid handicap form on a faster surface, so the ground isn't an issue for him either way.

And it is not as if this dual course winner's chance rests solely on his form in this race, either. He didn't run badly off a 2lb higher mark in the Victoria Cup here in May, and he is fully 10lb lower than when second, beaten ¾ length, in the Bunbury Cup last season (a race he surprisingly sidestepped this year, being taken out at the overnight stage, so let's hope all is well with him).

It is hard to disagree with the prices of those at the top of the market - Fastnet Tempest didn't get the run of the race in the Hunt Cup, Viscount Barfield is 10lb well-in after beating subsequent winner Jungle Cat at Chester last time and Mazkeem ran into a very well-handicapped horse at Newmarket - but their prices pretty much reflect their obvious chances.


Desert Encounter can upset the odds again

It could well dry up during the week - though the forecast is unsettled - but the prospect of soft ground makes the King George a very interesting ante-post race, too.

The favourite Highland Reel has never raced on anything softer than yielding ground, and all his best recent efforts have come on good or quicker.

Indeed, he was well below par behind Jack Hobbs on rain-softened ground in the Sheema Classic in March - last of seven, in fact - and, while he has form on good to soft in races such as the French Derby, he is into unknown territory if it rides more testing on Saturday. Who knows, he may not even rock up if it stays soft.

And that Dubai run was not the only time he has run disappointingly in the last 12 months when there has been some ease in the ground.

All his recent efforts with dig didn't dig, if you dig me.

Soft ground would bring the likes of Jack Hobbs and Hawkbill firmly into the equation, and maybe even My Dream Boat - and Enable's connections are being tempted in, too, it seems (they will now make a decision midweek, apparently) - but Desert Encounter looks a bit too big at 20/1 each-way to me.

The recent 33/1 and 25/1 in the marketplace may be drying up quickly - get 25/1 if you can, but I like to tip at odds that don't disappear in an instant, and that price promises to - but 20/1 each-way still looks attractive to me.

Given that he had won over 1m6f, and looked be suited by softer ground, it was very surprising to even see him line up in the Eclipse last time. I gave him next to no chance.

However, he belied his odds of 50/1 when running a stormer, and a career-best (by 5lb on official figures), to finish third, staying on well up the straight, and you have to think that an extra 2f and softer ground will see him in an even better light.

He is also proven over course and distance, having won impressively on his only start at the track in May, and it could well be that he is still progressing, and at a fair rate. After all, he is lightly-raced for a five-year-old, as this will be just his 13th start.

Highland Reel and Enable are the stand-outs on form here, but both aren't definite starters to my eye and I am not scared of anything else in the field.

Recommended Bets
Back Heaven's Guest at 34.033/1 or bigger in the 15:00 at Ascot on Saturday, and/or 33/1 with Betfair Sportsbook
Back Desert Encounter at 20/1 each way with Betfair Sportsbook in the 15:35 at Ascot on Saturday

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