Tony Calvin: Brian Epstein could be in his element at Ascot on Saturday

Ascot racecourse in Berkshire
At Ascot this weekend punters are spoiled for choice
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Tony Calvin looks ahead to this weekend's meeting at Ascot by picking two bets on Saturday, including one at a price that is simply too big to ignore...

"Punters on the Betfair Sportsbook are certainly spoilt for choice as the small matter of 15 races have been priced up (eight on Saturday and seven on Sunday, as we have another ITV double-header this weekend)."

I know there are more important things to get worked up about in this great sport of ours - and everyone has already had a similar say on this in the last 24 hours - but the fact that Aidan O'Brien is responsible for six of the eight five-day entries in the King George, with John Gosden providing the other pair, is pretty desperate, isn't it?

It is not a good look at all for one of racing's premier races, leaving aside the fact that there is also none of the Classic generation present and basically only three sets of owners are represented.

It is not the trainers' fault if they have all the appropriate older ammo in the middle-distance division - and it would have been even more marked if Gosden was tempted to run French Derby winner Mishriff, and Ballydoyle some of their three-year-old set (English King is possibly the only other worthy candidate from outside of the two operations) - but it immediately kills all ante-post betting interest.

Well it does for me, anyway.

Firstly, I imagine O'Brien will only decide which of his sextet will run at around 9:30am on Thursday and, secondly, he is very unlikely to run all of them (they all have the alternative of the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh on Sunday), which will mean the weekend each way terms will only pay the first two places.

Enable 1280.jpg

Indeed, the ground is good to firm (good in places), with a fine forecast, so perhaps Gosden's Fanny Logan isn't a certain runner either, though she has won on fast ground and I am sure Ascot will be giving the watering can a fair shake this week, if only to maintain the current going (they watered on Monday - no amount specified though, and that would be handy to know - and are set to do the same on Wednesday).

Of course, the bookmakers have already factored this into their ante-post betting, going 1/4 1,2, which takes the shine off with obvious each way plays against the Betfair Sportsbook's 8/13 favourite Enable (she is bigger on the exchange, mind you, and around 4/5 at the time of filing).

It is a race that screams "get back to me on Thursday" once we know the confirmed runners.

Spoilt for choice

That thought may well hold true for the majority of weekend races, as double-entries abound, but punters on the Betfair Sportsbook are certainly spoilt for choice as the small matter of 15 races have been priced up (eight on Saturday and seven on Sunday, as we have another ITV double-header this weekend).

I know I am partial to the odd lengthy column but we can't cover all of those contests here, so I am going to stick to Saturday's fare, and maybe come back to Sunday in another column tomorrow if time, and betting opportunities, allows.

Ascot's 7f Moet And Chandon International Handicap (14:25) will be one of the biggest betting races of the weekend, and it is no surprise to see Blue Mist, a favourite cliff horse of many it seems, head the market at 13/2 after his unfortunate run in the Silver Wokingham.

He has rock-solid credentials, not least his excellent course form, and the step back up in trip will suit but I imagine he will be available at somewhere around his current price on the exchange if he rocks up on Saturday.

This race is his sole entry this week though, and that is half the battle with ante-post betting these days. Getting one to the start. At the right track!

So be aware that the likes of 8/1 joint second-favourite Watan is also in at York on Sunday.

Others to hold more than one option in the coming days include, in alphabetical order: Arbalet, Blackheath, Blown By Wind, Brian Epstein, Cardsharp, Gifted Ruler, Gin Palace, Greenside, Kasbaan, King Of Tonga, Oh This Is Us (declared at the overnight stage to run at Pontefract on Thursday) and Shelir.

I hope you appreciate that researching that for you is 10 minutes of my life that I am not getting back!

Brian Epstein could relish step back

At this stage, I would normally advise on giving all those listed above a wide berth, but Brian Epstein (also in at York on Sunday) is a horse that has been crying out for a step back to 7f.

He absolutely tanks through his races and he plainly hasn't fully got home in any of his three efforts over a mile this term, most recently when ridden very (possibly too) handy over 1m on good to soft ground at York last time. And he was dropped 2lb for it, too.

I can really see a strongly-run, big-field race over 7f on better ground really playing to his strengths. The problem is that he could be experiencing this at York on Sunday, though Ascot is obviously a much bigger pot.

The 20/1 each way - the Sportsbook are one of only two firms offering five places (you can probably guess the other) - was massively tempting, so I did some asking around and it appears Ascot is the number one plan at the moment, which makes sense because of the prize money angle.

So, against my normal advice - and as we all know plans change - I am going to suggest backing him, but only win-only at 20s and not each way, due to his other engagement oop north lurking in the background.

Outsider could enjoy Ascot

As with any 31-runner handicap at the five-day stage, you can make a case for basically all the entries at their respective prices, but the other that caught my eye was 25/1 outsider Habub.

Owen Burrows does well with his small (though choicely-bred) string, and he won the Group 3 Hackwood Stakes with Tabdeed on Saturday, and the handicapper has given his Habub a chance, dropping him 3lb to a mark of 102 after his run in the Buckingham Palace here last time.

He is a horse who always tends to be far too fresh and keen for his own good - he pulled his chance away when tried in a hood at Wolverhampton in March - and initial blinkers may have lit him up too much last time.

In any event, trying to make all on the far rail was never going to end well at the Royal meeting, so that run is easily forgiven too, especially as the good to soft ground probably also wasn't ideal for this War Front colt.

All his best efforts have come on the all-weather so there is every chance that Ascot will suit him, particularly it if remains on the quick side, and he has been dropped 6lb for his four runs in 2020.

The main problem with him is his overly-keen style of racing, and the fact that his best form has come in small fields, but he will be on my short-list on Saturday if he takes up the engagement - and that seems to be the intention, according to Burrows in an interview on the ATR website on Monday - where he may well be wearing a new piece of headgear.

A Nifty bet that's too big to ignore

I would have liked to see the look on William Haggas' face when he discovered that his Johan got put up 8lb for his neck win at Newbury last month, but it was a taking win in a good time, and he is among the market leaders at 4/1 for the 1m "Nifty Fifty" handicap at Ascot (15:00). And Haggas is on fire at the moment.

He meets some similar sorts - though two of the lightly-raced opposition, Evening Sun and Cognac, are also in at Newmarket on Friday, so be careful if you are backing them ante-post - and this could be a hot little race.

However, I cannot resist a win-only bet on Great Ambassador at 14/1 with the Sportsbook.

Harry Bentley is jocked up on the gelding and this is his sole entry this week, so the signs are encouraging that he will run, and I thought he shaped very well when seventh in what appears a red-hot Britannia.

The horses that finished either side of him there - sixth Overwrite and eighth Eshaasy - won next time out, so I think he could be fairly treated off the same mark here, even if he was beaten over 10 lengths in that handicap (could have finished a length or two closer with a clearer 2f out, and again close home).

Royal Ascot 2020 runners.jpg

Given his pedigree, there must be a fair chance the soft ground may not have played to his strengths that day and certainly his best form at two - notably his Salisbury second to Pyledriver - came on a fast surface.

In fact, you could argue his three-quarters-of-a-length Goodwood third to Persuasion and Celtic Art, where he had Berkshire Rocco in behind in fourth, was an even better effort and one suggesting his current mark of 88 is very exploitable.

After all, the Goodwood winner is now rated 99, the runner-up 101 and the fourth 108.

I appreciate he could be taking on some horses well ahead of their marks too, but Great Ambassador is simply too big to ignore at 14/1. He also clocked a good closing sectional when winning at Chelmsford, for all the good that did him as he was gelded afterwards.

The in-form Haggas saddles the 9/2 favourite Al Qaqaa in the 1m4f handicap at Ascot (4.10pm), and there are also four races priced up at York, where the Skybet Stakes (2.30pm) takes centre stage.

I chanced my arm on Regal Reality in the Eclipse and I see Hollie Doylie is already booked for him in this Group 2 contest.

He is as big as 8s in the marketplace and he will certainly be on my radar again if the ground remains quick come the weekend, though the forecast in York begins to get wet as early as Wednesday afternoon, so I will hold fire there.

I could go on and on about the weekend racing, but I will park it there for now - and two ante-post bets is probably the most I ever stuck up in one midweek sitting - though I could return tomorrow if something catches my eye on Sunday.

Good luck.

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