Timeform Preview: Investec Private Banking Handicap

The action on Derby day kicks off with a competitive three-year-old handicap
The action on Derby day kicks off with a competitive three-year-old handicap

Timeform's Adam Houghton previews Saturday's Investec Private Banking Handicap at Epsom and recommends a bet.

"Any rain that falls will be in his favour (forecast is for showers right up until raceday)..."

Timeform on Ship of The Fen

The Derby is always one of the most watched races of the year, with ITV's coverage drawing a peak audience of 1.7 million viewers for Wings of Eagles' surprise victory 12 months ago. The number of replays watched in the intervening period is likely to far exceed that figure, too, as the Derby is a race dissected like no other as the season progresses, the litmus test of the three-year-old by which all other members of their generation are judged.

Saturday's card at Epsom is all about the Blue Riband, in truth, but those setting the Sky+ for the purpose of further assessment would be wise to make space for ITV's coverage in full, with the three-year-old handicap that kicks off proceedings also likely to prove a hugely valuable asset in the long haul.

Indeed, the ten-furlong contest has proved very informative in its own right over the years, with Conduit (2008) and Dandino (2010) amongst those to have won the race before going on to Pattern-race success, while the long haul turned out to be just what was needed for last year's third Desert Skyline. He was never nearer than at the finish behind Drochaid 12 months ago and went on to record his biggest win over nearly twice as far in the 2¼m Doncaster Cup.

Conduit also recorded his most high-profile success over 1¾m in the St Leger, while Dandino stayed 2m (fifth in 2013 Melbourne Cup), so it could pay to identify a horse with the potential to stay further than this down the line.

One horse who fits into that category is the Martyn Meade-trained Ship of the Fen, as he won a nursery over nine furlongs at two and again shaped as if stamina was his strong suit when making a winning reappearance over this trip at Doncaster in April.

By Champs Elysees, who is more of a stamina influence for all that he has also sired this year's 1000 Guineas heroine Billesdon Brook, Ship of The Fen remains potentially well treated from just 6 lb higher, still lightly raced after all, though a fast surface would be a concern up markedly in grade here (both wins have come with the word soft in the going description).

Star of Southwold is another for whom this is probably at the bottom of his trip range. He stepped up significantly on his debut form to get off the mark over this trip at Newmarket in April, forging clear of a subsequent winner in the closing stages, and was not seen to best effect when fifth in the Lingfield Derby Trial (11.6f) last time (left with too much to do).

In addition to Star of Southwold, the various Middleham Park Racing syndicates could be represented by Indomeneo and Tigre du Terre. That pair both arrive here on the back of wins at Ripon and, while the booking of Ryan Moore on the latter catches the eye, it is Indomeneo who looks the better treated at this stage. He was value for more than the official winning margin last time (started slowly and had to wait for gap from three out), and looks sure to give another good account from just 3 lb higher.

The good name of Middleham could also be represented by a trio of Mark Johnston-trained runners, namely Book of Dreams, King's Proctor and Poet's Prince.

The former is unproven beyond a mile and has finished well held in his last two starts, but the other duo both have plenty to recommend them, especially Poet's Prince. A typical runner from his stable, he has thrived on racing this spring and is impossible to rule out given his consistent profile (first or second in each of his last six starts), though a 5 lb higher mark than when second in a competitive handicap at Newbury last time makes life tougher again.

Count House was perhaps flattered by his proximity to Old Persian in a listed race at Newmarket last time, and is now rated some 21 lb higher than when winning his last handicap start at Lingfield in January, while his presence in here forces several of the more unexposed sorts to line up from out of the weights.

A winner of a minor event at Wolverhampton in March, Martineo certainly comes into that category, 4 lb out of the weights and with just three starts under his belt. He ran creditably when third on his turf debut at Thirsk earlier this month and may yet do better, though this looks a stiff ask for one so inexperienced, especially given the tricky nature of this course.

Others to note include Corazon Espinado and Shuhood. The former completed a hat-trick over a shorter trip here in April, but didn't look to be crying out for this trip when fourth at Ascot last time (worth a try back at seven furlongs if anything), while Shuhood was a dominant winner of his most recent outing at Newmarket. A 7 lb rise is fair, with the prospect of more to come for a yard that does well when targeting these big prizes.

Conclusion:

Plenty of these like to go forward and it could be worth taking a chance on Ship of The Fen as a result, with the likely strong gallop fancied to bring his stamina into play. Any rain that falls will be in his favour (forecast is for showers right up until raceday) and he gets in here off a nice low weight, with Court House keeping several of his more interesting rivals out of the handicap.

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