Tony Calvin: Adopt a patient approach for Ascot

Stradivarius horse racing
Stradivarius is favourite for the Long Distance Cup

It looks to be a great racing at Ascot on the weekend but Tony Calvin says it maybe better to wait before placing a bet...

"It is sometimes good, in terms of clarity, to go into the weekend unencumbered by ante-post positions, which you can sometimes stay too loyal to."

Mishriff Mischief

The horse that would have won the Arc runs in the Champion Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, and the irony is that he could have been handed an even harder task this weekend.

I am, of course, talking about Mishriff. A 5/2 favourite (the 11/4 in the fixed-odds arena went on Monday afternoon) for the 1m2f Group 1 contest.

Before we get stuck in, a bit of weather housekeeping first.

The ground at Ascot is currently soft, with a largely dry forecast from Wednesday onwards - the course had another 4mm on Monday, and there is a bit of rain lingering on Tuesday - so it is appears fears of it being heavy (which were very real when they had a meeting abandoned on October 3) have subsided.

But it will surely still be testing, and I suspect even if it was heavy at Ascot right now - and we don't get updated going stick readings until Wednesday - they would still call it soft, for PR reasons.

Call me cynical, and all that.

Not that the going is any real concern to Mishriff, as he won a Listed race by 4 lengths on fast ground at Newmarket in June and swept home in heavy at Deauville last time, with a French Derby success on good to soft tucked in between.

That Classic triumph has been underappreciated, I feel

Okay, the form of that race has been mixed, with only fifth-home Port Guillaume going on to notch up a victory of any note since (though Arc fourth Gold Trip was back in 11th), but the manner of the 1 ¾-length win was striking.
He didn't look to be doing too much 1f out until he took off in the closing stages, and that marked him out a top-class middle-distance colt in waiting.

Connections have obviously resisted the temptation to try him over 1m4f, which he is admittedly not certain to get on pedigree, and I think he could oblige in style on Saturday if he is as good as I think he is.

Backing horses at 5/2 ante-post is an unnecessary risk though, as I can't see him shortening that much, if at all, as and when he is confirmed on Thursday morning, health-permitting, unless of course his main market rival Magical, last year's winner, is re-directed to the easier Fillies And Mares on the card instead.

Magical was initially installed as clear favourite with most firms after her Irish Champion success but I would have her playing second fiddle to Mishriff in the market myself, even before allowing for the fact that she has that alternative engagement, a race she won in 2018.

One presumes she will be allowed to follow up her win in this race last season, and the ante-post books do, but I am not so sure.

Ascot - runners clear fence.jpg

One for the trio of colts?

Ballydoyle will be very keen to get a second Group 1 win into one of their trio of colts Mogul, Serpentine and Sovereign - they won't want them labelled one-trick wonders, though the latter is surely more likely to be header for the two-miler on the card - and indeed a third into Japan, as a Champion Stakes win is more vital to a stallion CV than a mare with an impressive seven top-flight notches already on her bedpost.

Japan Ryan Moore 1280.jpg

Of course, this is not simply the John Gosden (he also has Lord North in here) v Aidan O'Brien show, as last year's runner-up and mud-lover Addeybb will also line-up with the likes of Pyledriver, with the improving Prix Dollar heavy-ground winner Skalleti another major player at around 8/1 on the exchange.

It will take a big price about an opponent for me to desert Mishriff on Saturday, but no bet for now at 5/2 (though he is bigger at 3.9 on the exchange as I file).

Stradivarius leads Long Distance Cup market

No Enable any more, but Stradivarius is still in there kicking, and he is the general odds-on chance in the meeting-opening Long Distance Cup, though one firm stuck their neck out at evens on Monday and promptly got accommodated. He is currently 1/12.0 on the exchange, though.

Stradivarius Gold Cup 128x720.jpg

He got a very uninspired ride when seventh in the Arc - riding a stayer for speed over 1m4f in a slowly-run race would not have been the wisest tactics - and that run can easily be forgiven.

He was beaten a nose by Kew Gardens when odds-on for this race last year, but it would not surprise anyone were he to follow up his win in the contest in 2018.

He has 8lb and more in hand of this field on official ratings - Sovereign, Broome and Search For A Song are rated 117 by the Irish handicapper - so his chance is obvious.

Beating around the Broome

The three 3yos gets 8lb from the older horses but the 4yo in the line-up that is hard to weigh up is 12/1 chance Broome, one of three O'Brien horses in here.

We haven't seen him since he was fourth in the Coronation Cup in June, a race in which he was very weak in the market and therefore his below-par run was widely predicted by the betting, but last year's Derby fourth has been persevered with late on into the season and that could be significant.

He is said to be best suited by decent ground - and his Epsom fourth came on good to firm - but he did beat Sovereign by 8 lengths in the Ballysax on soft last season and he could well be suited by stepping up to 2m for the first time, as may Trueshan, who looked plenty big enough at an opening 25/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook on Monday.

In fact, Trueshan looks sure to improve for the step up to 2m - Broome has yet to race beyond 1m4f - and he would have been worth the each-way recommendation at 25s, for all he is 16lb shy of Stradivarius on the official figures, and 8lb below the level of the aforementioned Irish 117-rated trio.

However, that 25s was quickly cut into 14/1, and you can see why.

All his best form has come in small fields, so it would be preferable for him if this race cut up from the 15 five-day entries, as being crowded may not have suited him when he was a touch disappointing in the Ebor.

But hopefully that won't be an issue here and he again looked a horse destined to thrive for a greater stamina test when getting back on top late on over 1m6f at Salisbury last time, form which is working out well, and this has been the plan since.

As with Mishriff, I could well revisit his chances in Friday's column when I know the final make-up of the race.

Magical messing with Fillies and Mares

Dream Of Dreams has by far by the most convincing profile in the Champions Sprint, but the layers are not giving anything away, even at 7/4+ on the exchange.

July Cup winner Oxted and Foret hat-trick heroine One Master (also runner-up in this race last season) are his equal, or close to being anyway, on the form front, but it will be interesting to see who else throws their hat into the ring this weekend.

Lope Y Fernandez and Make A Challenge (though the latter is in at the overnight stage at the Curragh on Thursday, so he must be considered an unlikely runner) would be Irish challengers to note, and of course the unbeaten Starman will enter the equation of many too, if declared on Thursday.

For reasons I mentioned earlier, pricing up the Fillies And Mares, must have been very tricky because of the presence of the doubly-entered Magical, and she ranges from 2/1 to 3/1 in the fixed-odds marketplace.

Form-wise, she should be nearer an even-money chance, so I wouldn't want to be sticking my neck out at 3/1 or bigger.

As a result, the layers will be trading this race very carefully no doubt, and Prix de Royallieu winner Wonderful Tonight will be a popular each way order at 9/2, though of course she will drift if Magical is confirmed for this 1m4f test.

Mehdaayih looks overpriced at 16/1 on the exchange and Thundering Nights looks a likely improver at the trip, but I probably like Alpinista best at around 10/1 there, as the Yorkshire Oaks runner-up clearly should have won when second to Antonia De Vega at Newmarket last time, as one clear, uninterrupted run from 2f out would have seen her win comfortably.

But the participation of Magical, or not, has such a bearing on this market that I think you have probably have to sit tight for now, unless you are in the know, which I certainly am not!


No issue with Palace Pier as favourite

Palace Pier is probably the most likely winner on Champions Day in the QEII and, as a result, I don't have any issues with his price of 8/11.

He has looked a beast of a miler on his last two starts, and his ¾ length defeat of Alpine Star (who ran a screamer despite being too keen in the Opera last time) in heavy ground in the Jacques Le Marois, with Circus Maximus and Arc third Persian King well beaten off, is comfortably the best form on offer here.

He will have to run well below form to lose this - and of course that is always possible, at the end of the season on deep ground - but if you are looking for an each-way involvement then I would side with last year's runner-up Le Revenant (who I admittedly did back at 12/1 before his win in France on Arc weekend) rather than the over-rated Guineas winner Kameko, especially as the latter is unproven on anything worse than good ground.

Of course, he may run regardless of the conditions because of the meeting Qatar sponsorship angle, but I couldn't entertain him at the price on soft ground.

For all it is currently officially soft, this could still be deep, specialist ground on Saturday, and Kameko and Benbatl, who both have the leading form claims after the favourite, are not for me in the conditions.

Benbatl in Ascot win.jpeg

This is exactly the kind of race where I would love the bookmakers to price up an ante-post market without the favourite, and offer it each way, too.

Now, I realise that I am not asking much there - in addition, they should throw in a free bet, Best Odds Guaranteed and Non-Runner, No Bet, too - but maybe I would like to get my hands on an each-way price about Escobar in those circumstances.

He is the general 66/1 outsider of the party and would have next to no chance of even reaching a place on his most recent outings.

But what this horse needs is a strong pace to aim at, cover and a waiting ride, and if he gets all three on soft ground at Ascot then we know he is a potent tool.

He was rated 115 after destroying Lord North (running off 110) by 2 ¼ lengths in the Balmoral on this card in heavy ground last season.

But Escobar may be in the Balmoral instead...

He is probably a bad example of a QEII bet as, of course, he is far more likely to line up in the Balmoral, once again, in which the Sportsbook initially made him a 20/1 chance before clipping him in to 14s.

He hasn't had a big field and pace scenario to suit him since his success in the handicap here last year, though his third to Space Blues in the Lennox, with Safe Voyage ½ length behind him off levels, wasn't far off that level of form.

You can make his excuses for his fourth over 7f at Redcar last time as he wasn't well positioned , widest on the track, and he is now just 3lb higher than last season.

He would actually been running off the same mark if this wasn't an early closer - he is due to go down 3lb in future handicaps, so he is officially badly-in - but this race could set up nicely for him.

However, once again, he does not look an obvious shortener from 14s with so many holding strong claims, and I am not backing doubly-entered horses ante-post any more, as unlikely as that QE II entry is to be taken up.

The 5/1 favourite Raaeq is 5lb well-in under his 6lb penalty, as he sluiced up by 5 lengths from a reliable yardstick over 7f here last time and this will be just his sixth start. Profiles don't get any more sexier than this in this big-field handicaps.

Tempus and King Ottokar predictably follow him in the betting and then you have old course favourites like Raising Sand, so what will be a 20-runner handicap is crawling with possible winners. Alternative Fact was given a shocker at York last weekend, and Keats was the money horse on Monday, so the list is endless.

I am assuming Walhaan, a horse that I have a lot of time for, won't get in, as he needs 17 to come out.

Looking for an Outsider?

If you want an outsider to go at then Graignes could be the one at 33/1.

He cost an eye-watering 600,000 euros at the Arqana Sales last October and has done nothing to justify that price tag since, or indeed before it. He hasn't even won since his debut success in July 2018.

But he shaped well in the Lennox in July after getting no run, he was unsuited by the step back to an extended 6f on the all-weather at Deauville next time (was given too much to do from well off the pace) and I perhaps saw more promise than most in his fifth at Haydock last time, which is saying something considering I did my money on him there, for all he was a 25/1 poke.
He didn't look the most co-operative there, so I wonder whether they will try him in headgear on Saturday, but he did finally knuckle down when the race was over, and I just think this keen sort could improve for a big field and fast tempo.

He has come down 6lb for his last three runs, and that makes him very well handicapped on the best of his French form, which included a 3-length fourth to Persian King in last year's French 2,000 Guineas on heavy ground.

George Baker's horses are running into form, with three winners from his last nine runners, a I wouldn't put you off a he small win-only bet at 33/134.0 or bigger on the exchange. He is 33/1 with the Sportsbook if you want to back him there.

But I suspect you will get bigger a much bigger price on the exchange come, if you adopt a patient approach, so I have decided to keep my powder dry ahead of the weekend, at the currently available prices.

It is sometimes good, in terms of clarity, to go into the weekend unencumbered by ante-post positions, which you can sometimes stay too loyal to.

But good luck if you are getting involved ahead what looks a great weekend of racing at Ascot. Plenty will be, but not me at the moment.




April 14 2017 to end of racing March 2020 inclusive (all recommended exchange bets are settled at Betfair SP)

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