The Flat season returns this weekend with the traditional feature curtain raiser, the Lincoln Handicap, and here with his early preview and tip is Tony Calvin...
"He has a great pedigree too, being by Excelebration out of Rebelline, who won the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at four – in fact his 110-rated, half-brother Recharge also finished second in that contest in 2010 - so that gives you further encouragement that the mark of 100 he runs off here isn’t the ceiling of his ability."
It's crept up on the inner without anyone noticing - I didn't, anyway - but the Flat takes centre stage this weekend, albeit Newbury is keeping the jumps' flag flying with two races on ITV.
I will leave others to analyse the Dubai World Cup, though I may chip in on Friday if I see anything of note, but of course the Lincoln at Doncaster is the main betting talking point this week.
And two horses were dominating the Donny chat. Well, they were until Haqeeqy properly got in on the conversation when slashed on Monday morning and is currently an industry top-priced 4/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook.
More of him in a bit, though.
Fancied duo deserve to be at the head of the market
The money has spoken in the last two runnings of this race with Charlie Appleby's Auxerre winning this at 5/2 in 2019 and a certain Addeybb taking this off 99 in 2018, when he beat the dual subsequent Group 1 winner Lord Glitters (himself running off a mere 107) by 2½ lengths.
Auxerre hasn't raced since, but Addeybb is now rated 125.
Punters and bookmakers are alive to the fact that Appleby's Eastern World and one-time Derby prospect Brentford Hope are the two most likely potential Group 1 candidates in here and they are priced up around 4/1 and 15/2 respectively on the exchange.
Eastern World's form tailed away a touch last summer but he looked a different proposition when gelded and running away with a handicap at Meydan last month.
He only gets a 5lb penalty for that 3½-length win so, while I am always dubious of the form in Dubai translating to the UK, he is clearly a very well handicapped horse on that performance. I can leave him alone at his price, though he has drifted from a low of 4.1 in the last 24 hours.
The sky is the limit with Brentford Hope but the problem with him is that it is easy to see it caving in if he ever has to really get down and dirty, as he probably will have to do here.
They thought they had a serious Epsom horse on their hands before an injury in the spring ruled him out of last year's Derby, and his three first runs on the track after he returned were all defeats as favourite.
However, it all came together in no little style when he was stepped down to a mile for the first time (his debut win was over 1m2f) when winning on the bit in heavy ground at Haydock, and in a decent time, too.
Little wonder the handicapper hit him with an 8lb rise for that ¾-length in a common canter, for all the form does not look strong.
Given the regard he was held in early 2020, and there are rumours that he has been working well with recent winners - mind you, given he could be a bridle horse, you'd be surprised if he wasn't a very flashy worker - he could take a fair bit of kicking out of the way here off a mark of 99.
It isn't hard to see him getting the Jamie Spencer creeping treatment again in what is likely to be a strongly-run contest, but is his price of around 15/2 on the exchange big enough for me?
Not sure, in truth, but probably not, especially as we look like racing on good ground at Donny on Saturday (it is currently good to soft, good in places), which may not be ideal for him at all. That probably explains him weakening a touch in the last 24 hours (has been matched as low as 6.4).
King and Haqeeqy not easily dismissed either
King Ottokar ran a blinder away from a position and draw bias when sixth in the Balmoral, a race in which he also met trouble in running, too - he came from stall 22, and the first five home were housed from 4-7-2-10-5 - and there is no surprise to see him vying for third spot in the betting with Brentford Hope.
King Ottokar has often flattered to deceive but he has been dropped to a mark of 99 now (down from a career-high 106), he has a decent course run to his name and he won first time up in 2019, so he is a fair each-way player at 8/1+
He is more of a known prospect than Haqeeqy, though. It was no surprise to read that co-trainer John Gosden (he now shares the license with his son, the real slim Thady) say this has been the horse's target for a while.
In fact, I probably shouldn't have even bothered to write that as I imagine every entry in the race has been aimed at this race from a long way out.
But you can see why Haqeeqy is among the market leaders, though his price went into freefall early on Monday and he has traded at a low of 4.1.
He has had just the five starts, was impressive when winning over 7f here in September and has been gelded since. He may have blown out on his only start over 1m to date but that was too bad to be true and his pedigree suggests he will get a mile, and get it well.
So the problem for ante-post punters looking for something at a price is that the aforementioned quartet of Eastern World, Brentford Hope, Haqeeqy and, to a lesser extent, King Ottokar could take an awful lot of whacking.
It is hard to see them all miss-firing, or indeed one of the others in here having 10b in hand, as the first three may well do.
The Betfair Sportsbook are offering five places on the race, so what appeals outside of the Big Four?
Ferry can hopefully sail into the places at least
The obvious alternative is the lightly-raced improver Danyah, whose small-but-select stable know how to land a big handicap.
At over four times the price, I thought Waarif was an interesting outsider at 60.059/1 on the exchange as he returns after a lengthy absence on a very fair mark - the same off which he beat Kynren ½ length at Ayr in September 2019, in fact - and his stablemate Orbaan is also a very capable handicapper when the cards fall right for him.
But Grove Ferry at 20/1 each-way, five places, is the way I have leaned from an ante-post point of view, even if you will get even more enhanced terms on the day and he certainly doesn't strike as a massive shortener unless we get big-name defections this week.
The obvious negative is that he is 3lb badly-in under his 5lb penalty for his recent Lingfield win, and that is not a great starting point when you are up against horses which the market suggest could have 10lb in hand.
And, being honest, you do suspect that he may not have the necessary class to win what looks a very tasty renewal, though that is why we are getting 20s.
But 5lb claimer William Carver has been booked to lighten the load, and I just wonder whether Grove Ferry is a horse who has grown up since last season.
He looked far from the finished article on a few occasions last season, and a little awkward, but he didn't shirk the issue at all when knuckling down well under a strong Ryan Moore drive to beat the progressive Intuitive at Lingfield last month (the fairly handicapped Crownthorpe was 4¼ lengths away in third), and he has guaranteed form and fitness on his side, as well as experience of the track and winning form on both soft and quick ground.
So the weather can do what it wants, and it must be said different sites are predicting variable amounts of rain later in the week (shock, horror).
If he has indeed come forward mentally and physically from last year, when he ran a couple of blinders in defeat anyway at Ascot and over 7f here in heavy ground - he traded at odds-on in running on both occasions, given some credence perhaps to the fact that he may still have been maturing - then he is definitely a place player, and hopefully something more.
He has a great pedigree too, being by Excelebration out of Rebelline, who won the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at four - in fact his 110-rated, half-brother Recharge also finished second in that contest in 2010 - so that gives you further encouragement that the mark of 100 he runs off here isn't the ceiling of his ability.
Let's hope he follows in the family footsteps and runs to a figure well into the 100s. This is only his 10th start, after all, so we are not dealing with an exposed 4yo here.
I may well be back tomorrow if I see anything of any punting note in the other ante-post races that have been priced up but, until then, good luck all.
PROFIT AND LOSS RECORD
FEB: +17.82; JAN: -0.2; DEC:- -20.8; NOV: +23
2020 FLAT SEASON (June 1-November): +20.8
PREVIOUS P AND L (April 14 2017 to Apr 1 2020): +303.4
NB: All recommended exchange bets are settled at Betfair SP, not at prices available at time of publishing.