Godolphin can get us off to a good start in TV opener
With the seven ITV races to deal with for Saturday, the best place to begin is at Newbury and the first of the four from the Berkshire track at 13:50.
The Steventon Stakes has a nice mixture, which makes up for the lack of runners. Traditionally it's not a race that attracts a big field, so with the six, each-way betting isn't the most appealing.
Let's press on. I checked out the prices on Thursday afternoon (as well as the weather), and the 5/4 on Fox Chairman is right considering his effort at Royal Ascot behind Sangarius in the Hampton Court. If I put up a favourite at that price for this column, I am not sure I'd be asked back, so we'll let him run at such cramped odds. But as one of the three-year-olds receiving weight, I can understand the figure.
The 2017 winner What About Carlo returns for another crack at this. His official rating of 96 suggests he is on the downgrade, but the early prices of 25/1 for him had effectively written him off.
He saves his best for Newbury, and this 1m2f trip is more suitable than the 1m4f, so the reversion to the shorter distance today is very much in his favour.
However, he needs rain. He wants soft conditions, so it is difficult putting any faith in him unless we get showers.
Trying to chisel out a bet with those two gone didn't leave me with too many other options, but the price of around 5.04/1 on First Nation has pulled me in.
His trainer Charlie Appleby has won this race before with older horses such as Scottish (4yo) and Emotionless (5yo), and I would give First Nation another chance following his Sandown run last time in the Gala Stakes. That was over 1m2f and he didn't quite have the natural pace that some of his rivals had in that field but I liked the way he finished off his race up the hill.
He was boxed in with three to go (which can often happen at the Esher venue), and he didn't really get a clear shot at the race.
First Nation has always looked a bit of a stayer, which is no surprise as a half-brother to Leger winner Mastery. He does gallop strongly and his profile is not too dissimilar to the yard's previous pair of winners. He could also be the type to nudge higher in-play, so placing a Keep Bets figure to double his BSP could be something to consider.
Williams and King hold decent Marsh Cup claims
The 14:25 is the Marsh Cup, a new addition to the staying fixture list and a cracker of a handicap. Sixteen were declared, and if it stays that way until race time on Saturday I'll be happy with the four places. You can also use the Edge and boost the places on the Sportsbook.
It will be fascinating to see what sort of shape Withold is in following his Australian travels last winter. Saturday will also be his first run of the season but he has gone well fresh in the past.
He's still well treated and his owner Tony Bloom won the race last year with Stratum. But he isn't my bet for the contest.
I am going in double-handed elsewhere. Although it's a case of caveat emptor with the two, as rain is very much needed for the selections.
At 11/1, I like Coeur de Lion, who is a bit of a fixture in these big staying handicaps. He can be a bit tricky, but there's surely a bit more to come from a mark of 93 given he'll have a decent pace to run at. They went a good gallop in last year's inaugural running, and that should suit Alan King's 6yo.
He finished third behind Stratum in 2018, but he met a bit of trouble late on. That highlighted his liking for the track, though, and he ran well again at Newbury earlier this season over 2m2f when he lost out in the battle of "the Coeurs". Succumbing to Coeur Blimey on that occasion.
In these big handicaps I like a jockey taking off a bit of weight, so the booking of 5lb claimer Thore Hammer Hansen is a good one. The horse stays all day and won't be stopping at the end for a lack of staying power, but it's a bet with the forecast in mind as he needs the rain.
My other bet is the Ian Williams-trained Reshoun at 20/1.
Williams also has Royal Ascot winner The Grand Visir in the field, but he'll be a single figure price as he was impressive last time. He is another who wants the rain and needs some juice in the ground, so we are on forecast watch again. However, I am hoping he gets his conditions, as his stablemate needs cut too.
I've often thought of Reshoun having a crack at 2m, and this will be his first attempt at the trip. He easily landed a 1m6f handicap at Haydock last season in the mud, and he certainly wasn't stopping at the end as he powered away by four lengths. It was a similar sort of impression with a nod to his staying ability when he ran on well in the "City Bowl" at Salisbury last term.
He has a bit of class for a stayer with the way he can travel (given soft conditions), and for a horse unexposed at the trip and with a light campaign of just two runs thus far, I thought he was worth a bet at 20/1 each-way for a trainer that is a bit of a dab hand in these staying races.
In fact, Williams has got to be one of the best dual-purpose trainers around.
The only question mark is the wind op and his first run since, but he could be a player from 95.
Is it time for Donjuan to be triumphant?
The Group 3 Hackwood Stakes at 15:00 revolves around The Tin Man. He takes a drop in class and as a three-time Group 1 winner, I wouldn't want to be laying him at around the 3.505/2 mark.
Indeed, five of his last six runs have been at the top level.
Not too far behind The Tin Man on Haydock Group 1 form of last season is Donjuan Triumphant, although it's becoming a common theme here with the weather forecast very much coming into play. He's a horse who is better when the ground is riding soft but has enough form on officially good to make him of interest.
He was priced at 9/1 on the Sportsbook on Thursday.
Donjuan tends to stay on well at the end of his races, and that was evident last time at Hamilton. He can make the running too, and those tactics worked well when he bounced out in the Lennox last term at Goodwood over 7f. That ability to stay will obviously be a major asset at Newbury too.
There's also a flyer with the German horse Waldpfad, and he's a 16/1 chance. German raiders often get overlooked and written off in these sorts of races, but I don't know enough about German form to make him a bet however.
Whether Waldpfad is the next Overdose I very much doubt it, but he has only raced once at 6f, and that was a Group 3 victory at Hamburg. Previously he had performed over 7f and 1m. Perhaps he is getting faster at the age of five? He hasn't got the pedigree to get faster that's for sure.
Burke can test Hannon and Fahey dominance in Super Sprint
If you like 2yo racing with a difference, the Super Sprint is for you. Whether it's for everyone is another matter, but it holds its place in the calendar with the usual cavalry charge of unexposed horses. I think you can tell where I am going here....
In terms of a bet, I thought Never In Paris looked a big player considering her draw in 14, as you really need a double-figure position and an ability to race towards the stands' side.
However, my hopes were dashed a bit when I discovered she was the second favourite at 6/1 behind Ventura Rebel at 6/4. No way would I be taking the latter in such a big field, and the Never In Paris price isn't big enough, although I did like the way she finished off on debut at Nottingham on decent ground and Saturday's track could be a plus. But surely in a hornets' nest of this nature the 6/1 is too short?
She'll do well to beat Richard Fahey and Richard Hannon in this. Both have combined to win five of the last six renewals, and with eight entered up from those stables, I'll be happy to give the race a miss, but good luck if you are playing in the contest.
One outsider to improve but Gosden holds all the aces
We'll have a look at the only Newmarket event on the ITV3 schedule on Saturday with the 14:40 Listed Aphrodite Stakes over 1m4f.
In terms of an unexposed stayer, there should be a lot more to come from Alexana for William Haggas. She ran in the Bronte Cup at York, but it looked as though the run was very much needed. She won't lack for stamina in terms of pedigree, as she is by that great broodmare Dolores - whose progeny have all done well. Six of her seven runners have all won races, with only Howard a failure in terms of getting his head in front.
Staying types are plentiful on Alexana's pedigree with Duncan, Samuel and Gretchen all in there, it's just a case if she is good enough. She has a lot to find on form with a rating of just 86, but that never really bothers me in Listed fillies' races, as big improvement chunks can be bridged and found.
I don't think she's particularly ground dependent either. There were quotes of 16/1 for her, so we could expect around the 18.017/1 mark come Saturday.
A more obvious one to win is the John Gosden filly Kesia - who looked a fine prospect winning on debut at Ascot over today's distance. That victory was in soft ground, and we have rain forecast for the day. She certainly stayed well in that race and she's by a stallion I have plenty of time for (Australia).
If we can get 5.04/1, she makes it to the top of the list for my bet.
Dettori to claim another Group 1 prize?
Whilst not quite on the ITV brief, I'll give a quick mention to a super card on Saturday at the Curragh, as the Irish Oaks headlines the action.
Betting on the Sportsbook had the top two as Iridessa and Pink Dogwood - who both ran in the Pretty Polly last time with the former winning.
The 5/1 on offer for Star Catcher however has attracted my money. She reportedly wasn't quite strong enough for the Oaks at Epsom, and the decision to bypass that Classic and go to the Ribblesdale was a good one - as she scored in fine fashion at Ascot. She really did improve for the trip on that occasion and that looks to be her main asset - her ability to stay.
Her Royal Ascot win came in soft ground, so she won't be inconvenienced by any of the rain forecast for Saturday. In fact, the more the better.
She was supplemented on Tuesday for the race and is part of a decent UK challenge with Ralph Beckett double-handed with Antonia De Vega and Maunela De Vega.
Quick ground key to Rasen jumpers
The summer jumping at Market Rasen on Saturday is a real added bonus, although once again there's an element of guessing with the weather.
Trainer Olly Murphy holds chances and you can click here to read what he has to say about his weekend team.
In terms of my interest, Fransham is switching to a handicap off 124 following two very easy victories on decent ground at Kempton and Wetherby. He bolted up at the former and could be ideal in a big field at a proper pace, as he was a little keen when winning at Wetherby. It's the sort of race that could suit, but he is taking on some hardened older horses.
I backed Dino Velvet in the Swinton at Haydock earlier in the season and he was a little disappointing. But he's certainly a runner that will like this sort of test - a good pace to aim at to come through. He has winning form at the track and goes on decent ground.
The Summer Plate is the jumping feature at 15:20, but looks nigh on impossible, especially when one is in Flat mode!
If the ground rides on the quick side, Royal Village is a contender and took my eye when the entries were out. He's an unexposed son of Scorpion that looked ahead of his mark when winning a decent race at Uttoxeter in the spring. His latest effort was in the Kilmany Cup at Perth but he didn't get home over the 3m and finished lame.
His record at Market Rasen is excellent at 1,1,4,2 and he is a likely type for these big, summer races. Those comments however could apply to most of the field, and we have enough bets on the Flat to keep us going for the weekend.
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