It's King George day at Ascot and Tony Calvin is here to discuss the card, pick a couple of bets and gives his views on the action at York too...
"The question for latecomers to the Great Ambassador party - and the 14s didn't last long on Tuesday - is whether he is still worth backing. I am going with "yes" at [8.0] or bigger."
I am not going to harp on about Brian Epstein's no-show at Ascot - except to say apologies for those of you who took the ante-post advice and backed him at 20/1 win-only for the 7f handicap - as that is part and parcel of ante-post betting, I am afraid.
However, I am filthy at myself for breaking my rule about tipping doubly-declared horses, and I am not going to be repeating that mistake in a hurry.
I could do with a big-priced winner to get me on track after a poor recent run since Royal Ascot - Surf Dancer was one that got away last Sunday - but, again, that is inevitable when you play at the prices I do, and over the years I have found it important to stick to my tried-and-trusted MO.
The temptation is to break the barren spell by tipping a short-priced winner to get the confidence back - and that is what many do - but I'd rather be true to my betting principles, and that does not include backing underpriced favourites, so it certainly doesn't entail tipping them.
So buckle up again, as we go through ITV's nine-race offering on Saturday.
Join the Ambassador's party
There are five terrestrial races at Ascot, where they watered on Monday and Wednesday and are expecting rain from Friday afternoon throughout Saturday.
It doesn't look a great amount but it is an unknown you can do without when tipping 24 hours in advance.
First up on the main box is a 7f 2yo Listed race at 13:50 and it is a very trappy affair, as the open betting underlines.
Naval Crown shaped well in a decent time when third on his debut at Newmarket but he has plenty to find with the Group-placed form horses, and a mere glance at the rest of the opposition suggest all in here have the capacity to make a big leap forward.
As usual with these juvenile contests, there is nothing doing.
In recent years, being drawn high has been a distinct advantage in the 7f handicap at 14:25, and that is where the favourite Blue Mist is housed in stall 19 of 20.
He has occasional pace-setter Cardsharp alongside him in 20, but otherwise all the other early speed seems to be drawn low to midfield, with his front-running stablemate Vale Of Kent in two.
In truth, this 20-runner handicap looks a bit of minefield, especially with that rain knocking about, and I am going to sit this one out for now, with a non-runner already in the betting locker.
As I mentioned in my ante-post piece on Tuesday though, I would find Habub's claims very interesting at 40/1+ on the exchange if the ground remains on the quick side.
There are negatives - most of his form has come in small fields and he often pulls far too hard - but you can forgive him his poor run in the Buckingham Palace here last time as he raced too freely on the wrong side of the track, on deteriorating ground, and he has come down 6lb in the weights this season.
As a noted all-weather performer, you would think there is a fair chance Ascot will suit him, but I would rather back him once I know exactly what the Ascot ground will be. If it remains good or better, then I will throw a few quid his way.
Thankfully, my other Tuesday ante-post advice, 14/1 chance Great Ambassador in the 1m handicap at 15:00, has made the race and now trades at around half the price.
Now, I fully accept that Johan, Tsar and Evening Sun are all lightly-raced, progressive sorts to be scared of, but I remain very keen on Ralph Beckett's 3yo for the reasons I outlined earlier in the week.
At the risk of plagiarizing my own work, I thought he shaped very well when seventh, not enjoying a totally smooth passage on two occasions, in what appears a red-hot Britannia on his reappearance, and I would hope he is better than he showed there, too.
The horses that finished immediately either side of him at Ascot - sixth Overwrite and eighth Eshaasy (who runs in the race earlier) - won next time out, so I think he could be fairly treated off the same mark here, even if he was beaten over 10 lengths in that handicap.
Given his pedigree, there must be a fair chance he didn't entirely relish the soft ground that day and certainly his best form at two - notably his Salisbury second to Pyledriver and his Goodwood third, though he also clocked a fast closing sectional at Chelmsford - came on a fast surface.
Indeed, his three-quarters-of-a-length Goodwood third to Persuasion and Celtic Art, where he had Berkshire Rocco in behind in fourth, suggests his current mark of 88 is very exploitable.
After all, the Goodwood winner is now rated 99, the runner-up 101 and the fourth 108.
The question for latecomers to the Great Ambassador party - and the 14s admittedly didn't last long on Tuesday - is whether he is still worth backing.
I am going with "yes" at [8.0] or bigger (he is also available at 7/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook as I write).
Unconvinced by Enable at the prices
There is no point moaning about the disappointing turn-out in the King George at 15:35 - some may say differently in public but privately everyone knows that a four-runner race, three of which come from the same stable, is desperate, even if the other horse is Enable - and I was more concerned if we could get the favourite beat.
Who knows how the tactics will pan out but, reappearance or not, I was underwhelmed by Enable's third in the Eclipse on her return, in which she finished just a head in front of Ryan Moore's mount, Japan.
Course and distance winner Japan looks to be coming to the boil nicely and I would much rather take [4.0] about him on the exchange than [1.57] on the filly, but I don't see any great need to get involved in the race, especially as the two 2019 Derby winners are far from out of it, too.
Storm could hit
Given that I found bets very hard to pinpoint on Saturday, I was tempted to take chance with Arabist at [15.0] or better in the 1m4f handicap at 16:10.
There are obvious doubts about him, as he changed hands for only £20,000 out of John Gosden's stable in December after disappointing on his most recent start (when going off 9/4 favourite off a 2lb higher mark at Kempton in October) and his best form to date has come on soft ground.
He has had just the four starts though, so we should not be dogmatic about the ground, especially if any meaningful rain arrives in the 24 hours prior to the race, and his dam and useful half-sister Olaya both won on fast ground anyway.
Frankie Dettori called him a "beast of a thing" after he won at Haydock last September, on which he looks fairly treated off a mark of 79, so gelding him could have been a good move, if only to shed some weight (I will not be following suit, but apparently the op can help big units to perform better).
The form of the Ian Williams yard worried me until recently, but three winners from his last eight runners on the level has smoothed those concerns (and he also has last year's winner Western Duke in here), and hopefully he has a bargain on his hands at 20k. He is drawn on the outside in 11 of 12 but, as well all know, that is no negative around 1m4f at Ascot.
As I said, I was very tempted, at 14/1+ but there were a few more solid propositions in opposition and I suspect Media Storm, in particular, could prove hard to beat at the bottom of the weights.
He changed stables after winning in decent style at Wolverhampton in February and he did everything bar win under a 7lb penalty over this trip at Kempton earlier in the month - he looked as though he won going past the line - and an opening mark of 82 looks very fair, especially since the third has gone in since and is now rated 80 (and the winner was a once-raced son of Dubawi and Integral).
He is one of only two 3yos in the line-up (he gets 11lb from the older horses) and is the least exposed of all of these, and this Night Of Thunder half-brother to the one-time 117-rated Agent Murphy is actually pretty attractively priced at around 9/2 for a stable going better of late, even allowing for his inexperience.
So back him at [5.5] or bigger on a quiet punting day. I may have a personal saver on Arabist tomorrow but I am not putting up two in this race.
Thoughts on the York races
The field sizes in the ITV races at York have suffered a bit, and I would have liked them to replace the seven-runner fillies' handicap at 14:05 with the earlier 17-runner handicap, which is on RTV.
But they did not and, as it is, the fillies' race doesn't do anything for me, betting-wise.
The seven-runner Group 2 Skybet York Stakes at 14:40 is another race that is one shy of ideal for each-way punters but it is an absolutely cracking renewal.
Last year's winner Elarqam heads the betting at around [3.5] but this is a deep race, for all the lack of numbers, and you can't rule out any.
The ground at York is currently good but there is a fair bit of rain forecast for Saturday, and that just deters me from putting up Regal Reality, as he was by no means disgraced in the Eclipse last time. The quicker the better for him though, and he looks an on-the-day play once we know how much rain they get.
The 1m handicap at 15:15 has cut up from 20 entries to just nine at the overnight stage, and unfortunately the two that interested me most, Orbaan and Hartswood, have not been missed in the market.
Hartswood, in particular, has a lot going for him as the only 3yo in the race, though.
He ran a blinder when third over 7f here earlier in the month, and bearing in mind his dam (who was actually two from two at this track) won over 1m4f, this extra furlong should really suit him. He stuck on really well at York, and finished off his race powerfully when winning over 7f at Thirsk last season,.
The question is whether he is worth backing at his price - and he did go up 4lb for that York run - and I decided I would if he was available at 9/2 or bigger.
He isn't, so I have to pass. You always have to draw the line somewhere when it comes to price.
The 6f handicap at 15:50 didn't really float my boat but Normandy Barriere is the closest I came to a bet.
Bridge could take a fair bit of beating
Back to that 17-runner handicap on RTV at 13:30, and I have to put in another good word for Ulshaw Bridge.
He was dropped a generous 5lb for a non-staying effort over 1m2f on his penultimate start and he finished a perfectly good fourth over 1m here last weekend.
But I think the step back to 7f in a big field (and hopefully a strongly-run race) in this lesser 0-80 handicap could see him in an even better light here, and the fact that he wears a tongue-tie for the first time in 22 starts suggests they detected a problem with his breathing last week.
If that sorts out any issue that may have surfaced there, he could take a fair bit of beating. When the prices go up, I would back him at 8/1 or bigger, and probably each-way if you can get five places.
Great Ambassador at [8.0] or bigger in 15:00 at Ascot
Media Storm at [5.5] or bigger in 16:10 at Ascot
Brian Epstein at 20/1 in 14:25 at Ascot (NOT DECLARED)
Great Ambassador at 14/1 in 15:00 at Ascot