There's a huge day of racing at Ascot, and befitting the occasion we welcome back our lead tipster Tony Calvin who has seven picks right through the card...
"You have to imagine that William Haggas will have targeted Addeybb at this race since and, while I am sure he would have wanted it softer, I am reliably informed that his victorious exploits in Oz would have come on similar ground to what he will face on Saturday. Even quicker, in fact. He is the bet of my day at 15/2 each-way."
Hello again, my little friends.
It has been a while since I last chimed in here on June 18, and a touch longer than planned for reasons that you will be aware of if you read my article on Thursday.
I have no wish to revisit that subject here - but please do read yesterday's update if so you wish - and I am going to concentrate on probably the best across-the-board Champions Day Ascot card we have seen in terms of class, competitiveness and depth.
Sure, there have been better individual horses on show, and higher-tier races and match-ups down the years, but I think it is just about the best all-round package from start to finish.
In fact, I may even go racing if I can find my press pass. I genuinely can't remember the last time I stepped on a racecourse (maybe February 2020 but I am blowed if I can recall) and it appears to have gone walkies.
Praising the card is all well and good. However, it wouldn't be me without a "but" so, in the expectation of good to soft ground at worst, I do find myself getting a bit misty-eyed at the absence of near-unraceable ground and the prospect of the big-priced shocks of recent years, the pinpointing of which is the raison d'etre of this column.
Plenty of punting options in the opener
I can still see a big outsider outrunning his odds in the opener at 13:25 so step forward 80/1 chance Tashkhan. And Baron Samedi looks a big each-way player too, at a tenth of the price.
I have nothing against the established top two of Trueshan and Stradivarius - in fact, I am a huge fan of the former, who stormed to prominence when gagging up by 7 1/2 lengths in this race last season - but everything revolves around price and there is precious little wriggle room in their odds considering they had a fair old ding-dong in testing ground in the Prix du Cadran a fortnight ago, and of course all the travelling that entailed.
Of course that duelling duo are the most likely winners, but the percentage call is to take them on, and Baron Samedi each way at 7/1 with the Sportsbook looks the obvious play. But a rare obvious play in that the price is enticing, even if the 8s went early on Friday morning.
He shaped a bit better than the bare result when third in the Irish St Leger last time, finishing off his race well on the outside, and that was his first run since early July.
Hopefully, that will have sharpened him up and given that he looked a bit awkward before his rider got him organized at the Curragh (he has also raced lazily in the past) then I think the first-time cheekpieces could be a good move, even though the trainer is a decidedly underwhelming 5 from 91 with this headgear option since 2016.
He is one from one over this 2m trip, albeit that win came in a very weak Grade 2 at Belmont in June, but he did shape like a stayer again last time and I want to be with him stepping up to 2m again with the place safety net.
I love the betting without markets, but I do feel a bit uneasy about tipping in them given the prices are understandably very quick to move if you do recommend a bet. It is very easy for the layers to rack up liabilities in secondary markets that lack an even spread of trade.
But at the time of writing Tashkhan is 66/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook without Trueshan, and 50/1 without Trueshan and Stradivarius, and that strikes me as a cracking each-way bet on both lines (Baron Samedi is a fair 4/1 without the favourite, though again that has been trimmed from 9/2).
My cut off point would be 40/1 and 25/1 on the respective markets.
I appreciate that Tashkhan has an awful lot to find on ratings, and he has been beaten at his only start at beyond 1m7f - though that second in a four-runner race over 2m1f at Pontefract told us very little given the nature of the race - but I have been pretty taken by his defeats in the Melrose and a Group 2 at Longchamp on Arc weekend, as he has finished off well on both occasions over 1m6f and 1m7f respectively, and I am convinced he wants a more aggressive ride over this kind of trip to be seen to better effect.
I know there are other front-runners in here but I would like to see them try to race more prominently.
As a 3yo, I think he has a fair bit of upside in a strongly-run 2m and the price has lured me in for all the doubts. I am not worried about his fortnight turnaround from Longchamp as his two wins this season have come after breaks of 14 and 17 days respectively.
Tempting but no bet for me in the next
A glance at the official ratings for the 20-runner Group1 6f sprint at 14:00 tells you it is ridiculously competitive with 10 horses within 3lb of each other.
Little wonder the Betfair Sportsbook are offering five places.
It really is a no-bet race for me, though I do think Rohaan has a lot going for him, though of course his win-only odds of around (a shortening) 6/1 on the exchange reflect that (he is 9/2 if you want the five places each way).
He has won on the course, he is one of those 10 "form horses" and he probably should have been coming in here on the back of a Group 1 win after blowing the start in the Flying Five last time. And I think he is also well drawn in 15 as, while there is pace all across the track, a lot of it is concentrated high.
However, it just looks a devilishly hard race to call, and Rohaan could easily run to form and finish sixth. No, I am not pushing a bet for the sake of it in what is a Group 1 race in name only, albeit one that has attracted the numbers.
Snowfall is a fair odds-on shot
Given that the ante-post favourites Free Wind and La Petite Coco have not rocked up - and this would have been a winnable opportunity for Search For A Song, too - Snowfall has been handed a golden opportunity of another Group 1 in the Fillies And Mares at 14:35.
I can see why some tipsters will be looking to put something up against her each-way in the dead-eight, given she has not been at her best in her last two starts and the Arc was only 13 days ago - and maybe this was an afterthought for her, too - but that is a dangerous game to play when one non-runner totally banjaxes the bet (though of course three places will stand in the exchange each-way market come what may).
So, while Albaflora and the improver Invite will no doubt be getting a lot of love - and I can see the argument for putting that pair in a reverse forecast - but I am not going that route at this stage, particularly as I think Snowfall is probably a fair 1.8810/11 poke on the exchange.
A reproduction of her Arc run probably sees her win this, and any of her three Group 1 wins, which included her handing Albaflora her arse in the Yorkshire Oaks, sees her win this by 3 lengths minimum.
I am not tipping at odds-on here though, so we move on.
Pier a solid favourite in QEII
Palace Pier is a fair favourite at around 2.6813/8 on the exchange in the QEII at 15:10 - that is the problem with this blasted decent ground, as all the jollies look far too solid for my liking - to atone for his defeat in this race last year, where he was below par but perhaps wasn't given the best tactical ride by Frankie Dettori.
Market rival Baaeed is the up-and-comer but I'd be inclined to think he makes the market for an each-way play.
The obvious one is last year's winner The Revenant, especially after being given a howler in France a fortnight ago, but he would undeniably want it softer and this is another grade up from last year's renewal. A head defeat of Roseman will not cut the mustard on Saturday.
The one that stands out to me is Master Of The Seas each-way at 9.08/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook.
Time has shown that his short-head second to Poetic Flare in the Guineas was a roaringly good effort - he lost the Classic on the nod after trading at 1.331/3 - and he was having his first start since when third to Benbatl in the Joel Stakes at Newmarket last month, so he had clearly had some summer woes.
I accept that he looked a bit wayward there but he didn't get a clear run at it in the final furlong and I thought he shaped well enough under a considerate ride after a long lay-off.
It is very interesting that they have taken the hood off him here, and that may have something to do with a good piece of work he is rumoured to have done on Wednesday, maybe without any headgear. Perhaps with Benbatl the only pace angle in here, they are considering a switch of tactics.
I prefer Mishriff over Adayar in the Champion Stakes at 15:50 but neither are anything approaching an attractive price to my eye at the current odds, and Addeybb and Sealiway are the two I was drawn to from a win and place perspective, though I admit to having few on quid Al Aasy each-way at 25s in a moment of weakness on Thursday.
I have come to my senses on Friday morning though, and I do think Addeybb is a cracking each-way punt at 8.515/2 with the Sportsbook and he gets my sole tipping vote. He is probably my bet of the card.
The reason why there is relatively little love for him is presumably due to the fact that the ground isn't bottomless, the conditions under which he posted a sensational form performance when winning this race last year.
On that form, he is fully entitled to be half the price he is now and sniffing the derriere of the top two in the betting, and his sole run in the UK this season, after returning from another Group 1-winning campaign in Australia, saw him chase home St Mark's Basilica in the Eclipse, with a certain Mishriff a neck away in third. Hardly a blow-out.
You have to imagine that William Haggas will have targeted him at this race since and, while I am sure he would have wanted it softer, I am reliably informed that his victorious exploits in Oz would have come on similar ground to what he will face on Saturday. Even quicker, in fact.
He is the bet of my day at 15/2 each-way.
I've found a few nuggets in the lucky last
I really want to take violent exception to Sunray Major being under 3/1 on the exchange for the Balmoral at 16:30 but I am struggling.
He is 1lb well-in after his win here last time, on just his fourth start, and everything about this half-brother to Kingman's profile and pedigree suggests he will leave his mark of 101 well behind him.
That may well start here, but I will not fall into the habit of backing and tipping these types in fiercely competitive, big-field handicaps, where the draw could play a big role.
The two I like against him are Nugget and Dashing Roger, but I just fear the former may just have reached his handicap ceiling now after going up 3lb for an admittedly cosier-than-it-looked win at Haydock last time, so my main play is Dashing Roger, who is 22/1 each way without the favourite with the Betfair Sportsbook. I would make him a bet at 18/1 or bigger in that market.
We haven't seen him since he won convincingly here on the round course at the Shergar Cup meeting here in August, so hopefully connections have saved him for this, as I do think he remains a well handicapped and progressive horse off a 5lb higher mark.
Stall 23 may be bad news (the favourite is in 21) so I will have that win-only saver on Nugget at 8/1 or bigger on the exchange, too - he is currently 9.89/1 - as he was coming off a break when winning at Haydock and his draw in seven at least gives me a foot in each pace camps across the track. And hopefully he will continue to churn out those improved runs.
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Back Baron Samedi at 8.07/1 each-way in 13:25
Back Tashkhan at 67.066/1 each-way W/O Trueshan in 13:25
Back Tashkhan at 51.050/1 each-way W/O Trueshan and Stradivarius in 13:25
Back Master Of The Seas at 9.08/1 each-way in 15:10
Back Addeybb at 8.515/2 each-way in 15:50
Back Dashing Roger at 23.022/1 each-way without Sunray Major in 16:30
Back Nugget at 9.89/1 in 16:30