Dragon can breathe some fire into Haydock Handicap
As a betting heat, Haydock's 1m3f175yd handicap at 14:20 immediately leaps off the ITV page, and I am probably guilty of going for the "oldie but hopefully goodie" angle once again by sticking up the 9yo Scarlet Dragon.
However, I make no apologies for doing so.
There is little doubt that the four 4yos in the line-up present considerable dangers, most notably in the shape of Forza Orta and Mahrajaan (though Newmarket winner Contact is vying for favouritism).
The former bumped into one of those William Haggas handicappers-who-will-probably-be-a-Group 2 winner- by-early summer when a length second to Gaassee at York earlier in the month and a 3lb rise for that looks very fair.
And then you have Haggas' Mahrajaan, who actually beat Forza Orta last season before his winning run ended when perhaps not ideally suited by the combination of 1m6f and soft ground when third at York on his final start.
The step back to 1m4f on expected better ground (by Saturday) is likely to suit him, and we all know how unstoppable the stable has been in recent weeks.
Only a fool would ignore the claims of those two in particular - and for that reason I will look to back my selection without that pair when the Sportsbook's secondary markets appear from Friday night onwards - but I cannot resist an each-way bet, four places, on Scarlet Dragon at 14/1
Hands up actually, as I have already backed him at 25s (though I readily accept he could be that price win-only on the exchange come the off, given his profile and the opposition).
I did so when I was prepping the weekend races on Wednesday evening, and saw that Hollie Doyle had just been jocked up, so I took a risk.
Hopefully a case of right time, right place, and right result.
Thankfully, he was confirmed for the race on Thursday morning, as I think he has an outstanding chance off his handicap mark, though of course he is vulnerable to the youngsters coming through.
This horse has a lot of back-class when it comes to pilfering quality 1m4f handicaps under Doyle for Alan King.
They took the Old Rowley Cup at Newmarket in 2016 and then combined to take the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes at 33/1 at Royal Ascot in 2020 off a 7lb higher mark than this.
Of course, there has been a lot of water under the bridge since then, and he has since moved to Eve Johnson Houghton, but I thought he shaped very well under what I would term a considerate re-introduction under William Buick at Newmarket last month.
I'd say Buick was ordered not to get down and dirty there - he was weak in the betting, going off at 14/1 and returning at a Betfair SP of 20.0 - and you can understand why given his absence.
I bet connections were over the moon when he got dropped 5lb for it.
Aside from those two handicap wins mentioned above, he can also boast two solid outings in the Old Newton Cup over course and distance, from marks in the 100s (he was beaten less than 5 lengths off 104 in 2020), and he is ground-versatile too. The Royal Ascot win came on soft, and the Old Rowley Cup success came on good to firm.
That could come in very handy as there has been rain on top of watered ground (they put down 8mm on Tuesday, and got 3mm of rain on Wednesday and 3mm more on Thursday morning) , but there is a predominantly dry forecast from Friday onwards, so I am not entirely sure how the going will play out.
I am working on the basis of good ground, right or wrong, with the current description good to soft (good in places).
I do know I am backing him though, old man of the party or not.
Ugo and win, Gregory
There was a nasty surprise in store for ante-post backers on Thursday morning - well supporters of the favourite anyway - when Aldaary, as short as 8/13 in places, was not declared for the John Of Gaunt at 15:30.
I imagine the prospect of drying ground scared this progressive Queen Anne entry off, so that has thrown the race wide open, especially as Haggas also took out his Boosala.
That would leave the door open to Kinross, winner of this race last year, to follow up, it seems.
He is unpenalised for that win, and his subsequent Group 2 Lennox Stakes win from Creative Force (who went on to win in Group 1 company), and I don't think he is a bad price at around 11/4. I'd have him favourite over the 5/2 Sunray Major.
Granted, Kinross may want it easier than seems likely here, and I am still waiting for the Ralph Beckett team to catch fire, but he has a definite class edge over these.
However, I'd be inclined to see what the ground is like on Saturday before chiming in. If it is still on the easier side, I would happily take a little shorter than his current price of 11/4,
I won't bother wasting your time too much on the other ITV races on the card.
The 5f Listed race at 13:45 is very straightforward if you believe that Dragon Symbol badly needed the run on his return at York - and it looked an odd race too - as he is head and shoulders above his rivals on his near-miss Group 1 exploits last season.
But do you want to row in at 9/4 with the Betfair Sportsbook after he was beaten 12 lengths there?
Not for me, but I wouldn't be in a mad rush to lay him either at the bigger price on the exchange. If he clicks, he cops.
The 1m3f175yd Listed mares' race at 14:55 is another trappy little contest, and the alert signs are always flashing when John Gosden sends an 84-rated filly into battle in this grade, as he does with his Windsor handicap winner Darlectable You, a sister to Too Darn Hot and So Mi Dar and other quality stock, here.
The 7/2 chance Climate looks a big probable improver at the trip for Jessie Harrington - she has yet to race over this distance but the Australia filly could relish it after a good comeback run over 1m1f in the Dahlia - and she is the form angle along with Noon Star.
However, we have that man Haggas again and his Sea La Rosa, has the layers running scared at just 5/2 with the Sportsbook and maybe justifiably so. I hear he does quite well with Sea The Stars progeny, and just a smidgeon of improvement and the rest of these be looking up her derriere in the closing stages.
Maybe Noon Star is the each-way angle at 9/2 here stepping up in trip after a somewhat tame run at York- and any more rain would be welcome for her - but I'd be forcing a bet for no good reason here, I feel.
I was a little surprised to see Tomfre go from the front at York last week and I thought he did pretty well in the circumstances.
With that in mind he could well go close off a 2lb lower mark in the 7f127yd handicap at 15:45 at Chester even if his midfield draw in seven could have been better.
He also ran better than it appeared over this course and distance on his return but the big problem he may have here is the ground.
The current going is good, which would be fine, but it looks like being on the quick side if they don't get the watering can out with a theatrical flourish, and all his best form has come with cut, and plenty of it on occasions.
That is enough to deter me from even a small-stakes investment at this time. Good or easier come the weekend, and I'll probably be a player, especially as he has a good record when making a quick turnaround of 7-14 days.
Over to Beverley then, and they will be hoping for a trouble-free time of it after having to abandon their Wednesday card halfway through the meeting due to a dangerous, slippery surface. I imagine they will be watering aplenty on the current good to firm ground.
The two juvenile races on ITV do not interest me that much - though actually Whistle And Flute looks a very worthy favourite to me at 7/4 in the 15:15 and I would very much be a backer rather than a layer at that price given his form and time credentials - so I directed most of attention to the 7f96yd handicap at 14:40.
And I am glad I did as Ugo Gregory looks a lovely each-way bet at 5/1 with the Sportsbook.
The case for him is relatively straightforward, and rather convincing, I feel.
He is a three-time course winner back down to his last winning mark of 78 after being dropped 4lb from his run at Haydock last weekend, and that seems very generous, as that performance was not devoid of merit.
He normally takes a while to hit his stride, so he could be peaking after three runs this term, and what seals the deal is his excellent record when reappearing quickly.
He has won after breaks of just two, four and seven days in the past, and that is a bet-inducing stat allied to his handicap mark and course form. Good ground will be fine for him, and any ease would be a bonus.
I can see him going off nearer 3s than 5s.
A relatively quiet Saturday then, with just the two each-way plays with Scarlet Dragon and Ugo Gregory.