Tony Calvin is back from his holiday just in time to run through the card for day one of the Ebor Festival at York, and pick out his best bet. Read all about it...
"This isn't a race that I would go overboard on as, with most sprint handicaps, you really can make a case for all the field at their respective prices. It's simply how these races are. But Holmeswood's claims stood out to me and I wouldn't be in the least surprised if he went off favourite."
Straight onto a winner
The general 16/1 in the marketplace may have disappeared - the Betfair Sportsbook were offering that price, five places, on Monday - but Holmeswood still represents a decent win-only bet at 15.014/1 or bigger on the exchange in the York opener at 13:55.
This isn't a race that I would go overboard on as, with most sprint handicaps, you really can make a case for all the field at their respective prices. It's simply how these races are.
But Holmeswood's claims stood out to me and I wouldn't be in the least surprised if he went off favourite.
Gelding was the making of him last season as he went on to record a hat-trick after the op, including when dead-heating in a 19-runner 5f handicap at this meeting.
He has now dropped to a 1lb lower mark, but the signs of an imminent return to winning form were present over 6f here in soft ground last time.
It actually looked as though he was coming to win his race approaching the furlong pole there - I was surprised that the 12/1 shot didn't trade shorter than 5/2 in-the-run when I checked - and the handicapper has been very kind in dropping him 3lb for that run.
The step back in trip will suit - his summer hat-trick came over 5f - and the better ground will, as well, for all that a light shower would help to take any sting out of the ground.
The cherry on the cake is the booking of Silvestre De Sousa for the first time, and the Michael Dods yard is ticking along nicely too, with seven winners at a strike rate of 20% in the last fortnight.
You are always a hostage to fortune with the draw in these races but there is plenty of pace around the selection in stall 15, so hopefully the likes of El Astronaute nearby will give him a good tow into the race and SDS can make a successful late bid. The horse doesn't do a lot when he hits the front.
Of the others, course winner Fashion Queen looks on a fair mark on her handicap debut and, of the more exposed contenders, Eastern Impact and Gracious John are definitely weighted to go close.
Eastern Impact is already 2lb lower than when ½ length second to runaway Great St Wilfrid winner Gunmetal at Newmarket in June and wears first-time blinkers, while Gracious John has a 5lb pull with his Ascot conqueror Tis Marvellous last time.
Phoenix Of Spain is mainly on the plane
The Acomb Stakes at 14:25, looks wide-open and a win for any of the eight wouldn't surprise me.
If I had to plump for one, maybe it would be for Phoenix Of Spain at around 7/1.
He was a massive eye-catcher when fourth from off the pace in the good Sandown novice won by King Of Comedy - the runner-up Persian Moon, who re-opposes here, and the third have both won since - and he absolutely hacked up, in a weak race admittedly, at Wolverhampton last time.
He could easily improve past these, but there is just too much guesswork for my liking in a race such as this.
Pentagon an each-way shout if you're playing
There was no doubt from the clock-watchers as to the merit of Cross Counter's Gordon Stakes win at Goodwood last time, and the Godolphin colt is the favourite at around the 2/1 mark in the Voltigeur at 15:00.
Kew Gardens was third favourite for the King George before he was pulled out at the overnight stage because Aidan O'Brien wasn't happy with him, and he was impressive in gaining a smooth win in the Grand Prix de Paris last time.
The problem is that he carries a 5lb penalty for that Group 1 win, and that is troublesome for his backers.
At least, the race should be set up for his more reserved way of running on his last two starts, as there looks to be plenty of potential pace on here.
It actually wouldn't surprise me if The Pentagon came out best of the O'Brien quartet, as he ran far better than his eighth in the Derby suggested - he chased too strong a pace and met trouble down the straight - and then flashed home off to finish fifth off a steady gallop in the Irish Derby.
The Pentagon would be my each-way bet in the race at around 8/1 if I was getting involved, but I can sit this one out.
Talent heavy in the Juddmonte
Even in the absence of the likes of Cracksman and Enable, seven of the eight runners in the Juddmonte at 15:35, go to post having won at least one Group 1.
And, if Poet's Word doesn't win, then any of them can oblige.
Sir Michael Stoute's Prince of Wales's and King George winner is the clear form stand-out, and I suspect another victory awaits if he runs to that level of form here. However, he did have a very hard race at Ascot last time and that is a worry for me in backing him at 7/4, for all that he has had over three weeks to get over it.
Again, I can watch this race without a bet.
I am going to stick with just the Holmeswood bet in the opener, but there are two competitive handicaps that round off the York card.
Soldier could march on
In the 2m handicap at 16:15, Soldier In Action showed a lot more when fourth in a Shergar Cup race at Ascot last time - he was beaten out of sight in his two previous runs - and has De Sousa, who is one from two on the horse, back on board.
He is now 14lb lower than when starting the season, and it was no surprise to see the early 16/1 in a place snapped on Tuesday morning.
He would one of my two against the field alongside Here And Now, who traded at 1.11/10 in running when beaten two necks in the Melrose here last season, and shaped much better in a first-time tongue-tie when third to Northwest Frontier over course and distance last time. He would be a fair price at double-figure odds.
The nursery at 16:50, looks an absolute minefield, though I suspect Goodwood winner Don Armado is the right favourite - or my idea of the right favourite, anyway - even following another 6lb rise in the weights for that victory last time.
Best of luck.
Minimum Bet Guarantee for ALL races at York
Betfair's 'minimum bet guarantee' on all Class 1 and 2 races in the UK and Ireland - which means all customers are able to bet to win a minimum of £500 - has been extended to cover all races at selected meetings this week, including York. T&Cs apply.
Back Holmeswood at 15.014/1 or bigger in the 13:55 at York