Timeform's Matt Gardner takes a look at the customary Flat season finale, the November Handicap...
"The fact that Communicator backed up his marked improvement is of the utmost importance, showing his development to be no fluke..."
What would have happened had Felix Baumgartner, on his record-breaking leap, got to the height of 39,640 feet in his oversized balloon and thought "Nah, I don't fancy this."? I suspect, judging by the sums invested, a Red Bull executive would have bounded into his own balloon, soared up and shoved him off, with the phrase "How do you fancy it now Felix?!" accompanying him on the way down.
Regrettably a similar, if less spectacular, fate has befallen me. A week ago, still desperately clinging onto the coat tails of the Flat season, I quite literally leapt at the chance to preview the November Handicap, but the intervening seven days has seen the National Hunt game grow on me once more and I now repent that most unwise of decisions.
That is no slant on the November Handicap; it is a perfectly pleasant way in which to conclude the Flat season, but my mind has wandered to the all-weather and places such as Exeter and Cheltenham so the prospect of concentrating on a highly competitive 20+ runner handicap over a mile and a half on Town Moor is not all that appealing. "Get on with it Matt, you've made your bed now lie in it" said the Red Bull executive, masquerading as my Timeform superior, completely ignoring my bleating and whining. It seems I have no option folks, so here we go.
A solid starting point to the analysis would be to look at last season's winner and to determine whether that same trainer is represented here. Further inspection showed that none of the last six winning trainers (Gosden twice, the now-retired John Dunlop, Arbuthnot, Hannon and Charlton) will field runners in 2012 but Ralph Beckett, triumphant with Come On Jonny in 2005, has entered Cubanita.
Now I do not want to give the impression that Cubanita caught my eye simply because of her trainer winning the race seven years ago, there is much more evidence to bolster her chances than that. The three-year-old, the first foal out of a dam from the family of Yorkshire Oaks winner Key Change, began her career by finishing second to Bonfire at Salisbury and went on to get off the mark at the second time of asking at Nottingham. She has raced just three times this year, progressing steadily in her own right, and she boasts some strong form.
Cubanita's third in the Cheshire Oaks reads better now than it did at the time, with both the winner and the second improving since, and she faced a stiff task next time, on ground that with hindsight was probably too firm, in the Group 2 Italian Oaks. Her second at Goodwood is another piece of form that reads well, beaten just half a length by the potentially pattern-class Eagles Peak and the useful Cardinal Walter a head behind in third, and Cubanita remains herself remains unexposed.
As the old adage goes however, nothing is very easy, and so it proves once more as Cubanita also holds an entry in the listed event for fillies' on Doncaster's card. Were connections to make the most of what looks a favourable BHA mark of 92 Cubanita would certainly be worth supporting but, with her participation not cemented, it may be wise to add another string to our bow.
An obvious one would be the Sir Henry Cecil-trained First Mohican, who is unbeaten in his three starts to date and is likely to continue improving. There isn't much play in his current price of [4.8] however, and it is difficult to imagine him going off much shorter than that on the day, so he doesn't make much appeal as an ante-post bet. Two that are of interest however are Blue Surf and Communicator, with the former coming under scrutiny first.
The Amanda Perratt-trained three-year-old has won three of his six starts this year, including a competitive handicap at Newbury last time, and has progressed well barring a blip at Ascot in September. That was his first try at a mile and a half but there were definite excuses, badly hampered a furlong out and being unable to recover, and with his three siblings all staying that trip there is every chance that Blue Surf will too.
Blue Surf is involved with some of the stronger three-year-old form lines from this season, finishing close to the likes of Grandeur, Fennell Bay and Hajras, and his apparent ability to handle testing conditions, with his Newbury win coming on heavy ground, is an added bonus.
Communicator, formerly trained by Michael Bell but in the care of Andrew Balding this season, also looks to have no problems with soft ground and has taken his form to a new level on his last two starts with a clear cut victory and Chester followed by an excellent effort in defeat when second to Tominator back at the same track, making his effort earlier than ideal and being run down. The fact that he backed up his marked improvement is of the utmost importance, showing his development to be no fluke, and he is seems likely to go well racing from a 1 lb higher mark.
This is a fascinating renewal of the November Handicap and, were Cubanita solely entered in this event, she would be the recommended bet. If she lines up she is certainly worth having on side, as she has the potential to go very close, but is she does not take her place the pair to support are Blue Surf and Communicator, both of whom bring solid form to the table, are effective on a softer surface and will race form feasible handicap marks.