With the Epsom Derby meeting just around the corner we have a relatively low key Saturday coming up on ITV Racing, but Tony Calvin has still gone through the four ante-post races...
"He is 2lb below his last winning mark, at Goodwood last August, and 5lb lower than when winning this by 2 ½ lengths in heavy in 2019, so the case for him is clear after a decent fifth over 7f last time, a race in which he faded a touch late on."
We were rather spoilt for choice on the ante-post front last week - mind you, my three selections failed to trouble the judge so maybe that isn't the most accurate description - but it is fair to say there is a considerable class downgrade for ITV's Saturday races.
Sure, the lucky Betfair Sportsbook's odds-compilers still get to price up eight races from three different tracks, and there are two Group 3 contests among them - and I bet they absolutely loved trying to frame their markets for the two juvenile contests, as well - but this is undoubtedly one of the more low-key punting weekends.
But maybe that's how it should be with Epsom just around the corner.
Stare appeals but I'm a bit Cold on backing him right now
Haydock is the premier meeting, and the sole handicap on ITV at 1.45pm from there promised to be the race that interested me most on Saturday, especially as Chester and Beverley are obviously big draw bias tracks, and are hardly conducive to ante-post bets as a result.
However, it has attracted a whopping 35 entries, and it is over 6f at a time when I am trying to wean myself off these minefields that are sprint handicaps - unless the price demands an involvement - so far from ideal (though at least this isn't over 5f, I suppose).
And you can guarantee you will be offered better place terms, and probably better prices, from Thursday afternoon onwards, too.
At least we know what the ground will be like at the Newton Le Willows venue, which stages a three-day meeting from Thursday.
Why, heavy of course - soft at a push maybe - as that is the current going description and it is not exactly a totally dry forecast either, though midweek onwards does look okay to be fair (if not exactly scorching near-June weather).
That will play into the hands of 2019 winner Cold Stare (but unfortunately a fair few others too) in the 6f handicap, and he probably looks the most attractive bet in the race at the moment.
He has no other weekend entries.
He comes here in decent nick, he has run some of his better races at this track, he will be in his element here if there is a strong pace to aim at stepping down from 7f, and he is back on a winnable handicap mark. And he is only 6yo, so he isn't an old boy.
He is 2lb below his last winning mark, at Goodwood last August, and 5lb lower than when winning this by 2 ½ lengths in heavy in 2019, so the case for him is clear after a decent fifth over 7f last time, a race in which he faded a touch late on.
The Sportsbook's 14/1 is fair but I'd be lying if I said I was backing him myself at this stage - if this 25-strong field holds up at the overnight stage there will be at least five places knocking around on Thursday - so I can hardly put him up.
Rausing key to unlocking the Group 3 Pinnacle Stakes
There are considerably fewer entered up for the 8-runner fillies and mares' 1m3f175yd Group 3 Pinnacle Stakes at 2.55pm.
I don't know if Kirsten Rausing (one of the wealthiest owners in racing) has a hands-on approach to placing her horses but she will have a huge impact on the betting here if she does.
Because she owns the two market leaders and form horses Alpinista and Albaflora, as well as Oriental Mystique, who probably ran a near career-best at Goodwood last time. They are in different stables.
Rausing clearly doesn't have a problem running her horses against each other - indeed, Oriental Mystique finished a length third to Alpinista at Goodwood - and maybe she will let her trainers run all three.
However, I see Oriental Mystique has been left in at Sandown on Thursday evening and I reckon Albaflora is by the likeliest to rock up on this ground and she was pretty devastating when beating Saturday's good York winner Tribal Craft by 7 lengths in the soft at Ascot last time.
But do you want to back her at evens now? You might, but I don't. Not really my style or price, especially ante-post.
Tarboosh the one I like best in the Listed race
The 5f Listed race at 2.20pm is for horses that have not won in Group 1 or 2 company, and the obvious starting point here - and the first firm up on Monday made him their 9/2 favourite in a very defensive book, perhaps understandably so - is El Astronaute after his "he went whoosh" performance at Chester last time, and the Sportsbook are 4s.
I have never seen a horse come out of the stalls so quickly as he did at Chester. He had every right to win there as the clear form choice but he was ridiculously weak in the market for that return, so perhaps we should mark up the run. He went off a Betfair SP of 2.93 when no-one would have batted an eyelid if he had gone off at odds-on.
He is unpenalised and this race was immediately namechecked after the Chester win and he proved he can handle testing conditions when third in the 2019 l'Abbaye, but I am not convinced he wants it as bad as this could be and he did blow out on his only previous start at this course.
Of the opposition I like Tarboosh best.
Here is why.
Tarboosh was beaten ½ length by El Astronaute in this race when it was held at Doncaster last season - I am not sure why they didn't race at Haydock to be honest - and he also finished third in a heavy ground renewal the year before, so I think he could be the one to beat on a track he clearly goes well at (he has been beaten a neck here before, and also finished second to the then 90-rated Dakota Gold off a mark of 102 here in 2018).
The downside is he carries a 3lb penalty for his impressive Listed race win at Doncaster last October, but, while he handles most underfoot conditions, he is at home on heavy ground (has form figures of 332 on it) and has won twice on soft too, and there was a ton of promise in his return at Musselburgh on good ground.
Having his first start after a wind op (not the first one he has had), he shaped very well from off the pace to finish sixth there - he can blow the start a bit, so the testing conditions will hopefully see the pace-setters come back to him - and the other aspect of that performance is, like El Astronaute, how weak he was in the betting, going off at a Betfair SP of 28.0.
It looked very much like a tune-up for a race further down the line and this could well be the destination for a trainer who won this race with Final Venture in 2017. And Paul Midgley's horses are belatedly hitting some form after a very quiet 2021 to date.
However, I can resist the 8/1 each-way, three places.
I imagine he will be a similar price with maybe enhanced place terms come the weekend day-of-race markets, as only three (outsiders Spoof, Ishvara and Zargun) of the 18 five-day field have alternative weekend entries, so we could get a big field.
A strong renewal of the John Of Guant Stakes
The 7f Group 3 John Of Gaunt Stakes at 3.30pm completes the ITV action at Haydock and the class act, Safe Voyage, will have his preferred ground.
And his only defeat in five starts here was a neck second to Space Blues here last June, and the winner went on to take his next four races, including in Group 1 company.
Unfortunately, for his would-be supporters, he carries a 5lb penalty for his Group 2 victory in Ireland last September and he didn't shine when last in the Lockinge, while this is also a very strong renewal, at the five-day stage at least. Very strong.
With that in mind, I was hoping for a much bigger price than the 10/1 about last year's Guineas sixth Kinross so, for all I think the combination of 7f on heavy ground could prove ideal for him, on his first start after being gelded, I can let him go unbacked for now.
I have presented the argument for a couple in here - Tarboosh came closest - but I am not tipping for the sake of it, so I will see you on Friday with some bets which will be backed up with hard cash.
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