Recent Newcastle winner Art Power predictably dominates the betting in the opening 5f handicap at 13:15 as he is a well-regarded, lightly-raced improver who will not be inconvenienced by the step down to the minimum trip.
He also has a soft-ground York win - in a good time, too - to fall back on if we get even more rain, the course having got 18.8mm up to yesterday afternoon.
What's not to like?
Basically, the price. He is exactly the sort of horse I am programmed to take on at 9/4 in a 22-runner sprint handicap.
The problem I had when going through this race, time and again, is that I really couldn't latch on to a horse with a solid each-way profile against him at an attractive price.
Sure, we have well bred, progressive horses like Never Dark lining up (though he is unproven on the ground), but none of which I was willing to back myself. So nothing doing.
It is a very tricky day's punting all round, in truth.
O'Brien juvenile the one to side with in the Norfolk
I can't see any angle into the Albany Stakes at 13:50, where all bar one of the fillies have just had the sole outing and many are unproven with cut, but I am going to have a very rare stab in the following juvenile race.
On a quiet day, Lipizzaner could be worth a small tickle at 5.04/1 or bigger in the Norfolk Stakes at 14:25.
The early 11/2 in the marketplace went throughout Thursday - maybe because Chesham Stakes winner Battleground finished behind him last time (not that I think that is at all relevant) - but he remains a bet at 4/1+.
The reason why I am going to make an exception is that I like the angle of him having the two starts, crucially one in the spring and the other after lockdown ended in Ireland last week.
I take that as a big positive as to his preparedness for stepping up in class here, as is the fact that he is already proven on extremes of going.
The March run came on very testing ground at Naas, and he did well to finish second to what was clearly an equally well-fancied newcomer (the pair went off 2-1 joint favs), and they came clear of The Blue Panther, who went on to finish second to Chief Little Hawk, hamstrung by the draw here earlier in the week, at Navan.
And on his return to Naas on fast ground last week, he had to do a lot of running from his outside stall to come there with what looked a winning run at the furlong pole, until winner Lucky Vega (he met another seemingly well-regarded newcomer) pulled out more.
The bare form of those two defeats basically puts him alongside most, if not all, in here from a form perspective, so I will take my chances, even if a draw on the flank in 14 may not be ideal.
Anthony has a class edge but I can't see a bet
Anthony Van Dyck remains a touch too short for my liking in the Hardwicke Stakes at 15:00 despite drifting on Thursday, but he does have a slight class edge over these, I suppose, and his Lingfield Derby Trial victory came on soft.
Elarqam is the obvious alternative - his rider should have set a stronger pace from the front when just chinned by Lord North at Haydock on his return, though the winner franked the form, and then some, here on Wednesday - but he is now no great shakes from a price point of view (he is the exchange favourite at the time of filing), especially as he is unproven over the 1m4f trip, and I couldn't see another horse with the right combination of positives to back each-way.
Outsider Desert Encounter probably doesn't deserve to be 80-odd on the exchange but he is an 8yo now and he may need another run or two to put him straight after finishing last in the Coronation Cup, as well as preferring faster ground.
I am sure many will latch on to mudlark Morando - in fact, they already have as all the 12s and 10s disappeared first thing on Thursday morning - or the up-and-comers Hamish and Fanny Logan, proven on the ground, but it just looked a messy, confusing race to me.
I couldn't see a bet.
Step back to 6f looks right for Fernandez
If Lope Y Fernandez is in the same form as he was when third in the Irish 2,000 Guineas last week, then he could be the answer to the Commonwealth Cup at 15:35.
The short turnaround is an obvious concern, as is his draw in one and the ground (though the going stick readings suggests is much worse on the round course), but it looked for the whole world like a step down in trip was needed at the Curragh last time, as he cruised into the race on the outside - and traded 1.51/2 in running - before getting swallowed up late on.
Whether he has the 6f pace to deal with speedsters like Wesley Ward's Kimari we shall see (though that type could be blunted by the ground), but he didn't lack speed when winning his Group 3 over 6f last season and of course he has that Ascot course form in the book, having chased home a certain Pinatubo in the Chesham here 12 months ago, where he again showed a fair bit of toe before being outpaced in the final furlong.
He looks like a sprinter to me, and he is worth a small bet at 7.613/2 or bigger.
If the ground rides soft again, then Born To Pride - withdrawn from the Ribblesdale due to the ground earlier in the week - will be a big player in the Queen's Vase at 16:10.
She beat the Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Peaceful and Run Wild on her debut over 1m in heavy ground at Newmarket last season and, as has been pointed out by many, you can readily forgive her Kempton eclipse on her return, not least because it was a very good race and her pedigree suggested she was never likely to shine on the surface.
She is a half-brother to three middle-distance and staying winners (although all of those were by Sea The Stars), which suggests she could get this 1m6f. The problem with her is that her price has ebbed away ever since the rain hit Ascot in the early hours on Thursday morning and, as the 9/2, 4/1 and 7/2 disappeared, so did my interest.
Birthday overlooked but we can celebrate with Durston
I am far happier having a pop at a handicap and the weights and measures posse will tell you that West End Charmer is the deserved favourite in the 16:40 on account that he is 5lb well-in despite is 4lb penalty, courtesy of his wide-margin Newmarket win last time.
However, he could struggle to confirm the form with the third and fourth, Good Birthday and Desert Icon (though the latter is first reserve here), as I thought that pair shaped well on their seasonal reappearances, and the winner won't get such an easy solo here.
Good Birthday is the one I had a real think about at 10/1+.
He won first time out in 2019 so it was a surprise to see him so weak in the betting over 1m2f at Newmarket, especially with the yard going so well, but I was happy enough with that first start back.
He beat Desert Icon at Beverley before finishing third to Lord North in the Cambridgeshire - that form has worked out rather well - and he can race off the same mark here.
The trip is the major concern though, as he blew out over 1m4f here last time and isn't bred for middle distances.
The manner in which he has finished his races over 1m2f (especially that Beverley defeat of Desert Icon) suggests he is worth another go at the trip, but I am not sold on his stamina at all, and this will be a real test over 1m4f now the rain has arrived.
I have to look elsewhere, and I will have a small bet on Durston at 7/1 each-way, five places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
David Simcock has eased himself gently into the season after lockdown but the signs are that his horses are coming right at last, and a winner is surely imminent.
Almania was his latest horse to run a blinder in defeat here on Wednesday, following on from Smart Champion and Mohican Heights earlier in the week, and Durston could be the answer to this, though he will needs the breaks from stall four.
But he progressed well last season, just being denied by subsequent St Leger runner-up Sir Ron Priestley over this trip at Goodwood before running a fair third in the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer at Newbury, where perhaps his stamina ran out over an extended 1m5f.
He has rocketed up the handicap in defeat but a subsequent gelding operation could have improved him, and he is the subject of good reports from a stable just itching to catch fire after a winner-less start after lockdown. The ground isn't a problem for him either, though admittedly that draw in four might be.
Over to you Jim Crowley.
Good luck all. Three short prices for me, but it was that kind of day.
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