Keep two on side in Ascot's opener
Typical of an opening Ascot handicap, we have a hugely competitive contest in which to dissect for our first race. This is a 0-95 Handicap for 4yo+ over 1m4f at 13:45 where I'm siding with two at each-way prices in this wide-open curtain raiser.
The angles I'm looking for in this race are firstly, four-year-olds with this race going to horses of that age in eight of the last 10 renewals. The next trend to look at is runners rated between 89-93 as that is the sweet spot in terms of a mark for this handicap.
Ideally, a horse should run in mid-division in this race and it's a positive to be drawn middle to high. A runner making their seasonal debut is another plus with their latest start coming eight months ago- which makes September last time out performers the ones to keep on side. The final piece of the puzzle to look for is a horse who ran in a Class 2 or in an even higher-grade last time out.
Each of those trends have landed me on two horses. The first consideration is Juan De Montalban at 11.010/1 who represents Kevin Philippart De Foy who had a cracking season last campaign. This four-year-old gelding by Lope De Vega started last year in the perfect manner by winning on his reappearance at Sandown before posting three further respectable efforts in defeat.
He signed off his season when last of 15 at 66/1 in the Old Rowley Cup Handicap at Newmarket where he lost ground rapidly and was eased. That was to be his final start of 2021 but clearly, he suffered no long-term effects from that as he returned to the track nice and early this season at Thirsk on 9th April.
He posted a respectable effort in the 1m4f Class 3 Handicap on soft ground to finish fourth. The form of that race has worked out very well. The winner, Get Shirty, finished a close second on his next outing. The second, Contact, won his next start at Newmarket in impressive style. The third horse home, Forza Orta, won his next race at Hamilton. The fifth won two starts later, and even the ninth and 11th horses home ran well to finish second on their only starts since.
That form looks very strong yet Juan De Montalban is still able to run off a 1lb lower mark and should come forwards for his reappearance start also. He has a low draw which isn't ideal but most variables are in his favour to give him another chance.
The other horse I like in this race is Just Hubert who may not be a four-year-old, but he certainly ticks plenty of other boxes. Just Hubert is a six-year-old but has an ideal rating of 93, he's also making his reappearance start on the back of an eight-month absence. He ran well in a Class 2 Handicap when last seen and is a hold up performer in the main.
Unfortunately, he too, has a low enough draw which is frustrating for many of my leading fancies but it does mean that Just Hubert is a decent price to play each-way at 9.08/1. He has shown tendencies of temperament in the past and he certainly knows his own mind. As displayed when refusing to race at Goodwood last summer in a race where the stalls aren't able to be used.
He quickly made up for that blot on his copybook however, and won his next two races- both over two miles, one of which came at this course. This drop back down in trip does represent a degree of concern for all he's won over 1m4f previously. He's a fair price to chance his stamina to come to the fore as he ticks plenty of boxes.
Anna can double up back across the Irish Sea
We switch tack now and head to the jumps once again as I just can't fully let go yet. But it's also the Grade 3 Swinton Handicap Hurdle over 1m7f144y at 15:00 which is always a fascinating race to assess and watch.
This year's Swinton is fiercely competitive and a very good-looking renewal also where I originally liked three who I found very difficult to separate. Those three were Anna Bunina, Cormier and Herbiers. Each of these three horses has an almost identical profile for this race.
When looking at the Swinton it pays to side with horses ages five or six, rated 132-138, who are ridden in mid-division, had a winter break, ran well enough last time out and have had one month since that latest outing.
Each of the three aforementioned horses tick the majority of those boxes. The only difference being the time since their latest start but even that trend doesn't carry any major outliers with the trio.
I really had to home in on the selections to eventually favour Anna Bunina as my main play but to be honest, I'll likely perm all three in some exotic bets to save face should the trends follow through with each runner.
Anna Bunina however, is a very likeable mare in the spring. This six-year-old has made a fool of me all season where I've sided with her on multiple occasions without success despite her running well and having excuses not to have finished closer. Lo and behold what John McConnell's runner goes and does the moment I side against her, she rattles home to mug my selection to win the Scottish Champion Hurdle...this game really isn't for the fainthearted at times.
However, it did confirm the knowledge that Anna Bunina is a well handicapped horse, she is also a horse who brings her best form to the fore in the spring. Anna Bunina was given a 5lb rise for her Scottish Champion Hurdle success under Sean Bowen but has Mark McDonagh taking over in the plate this time around. He also has that very attractive 5lb claim to perfectly offset the rise which looks a very smart move by McConnell.
Effectively running off the same mark as last time out, Anna Bunina should once again, have all conditions in her favour to double up in the Swinton Hurdle.
Chance a big priced runner in Heritage Handicap
I really am a gluten for punishment sometimes and this week's column is no different where I'm now heading back to Ascot for a 28-runner Heritage Handicap in the Victoria Cup at 16:05. Believe it or not, I'm only going into battle in this race with one selection. Confidence or pure early season naivety...I'll let the result decide.
There is one horse I can't escape being too big a price to resist and that's Oo De Lally at 26.025/1 who runs for the Andrew Balding team. This four-year-old gelding is the only horse to fit nearly all the trends required for this race.
Four-year-olds have a very good record in this race, winning five of the last six renewals. Horses rated between 100-104 should be high on the shortlist as should those who are ridden in mid-division. Middle to high draws have been the place to be in recent renewals. Having at least one run already in the season is an advantage with that run coming about three weeks prior to Ascot.
Oo De Lally is a four-year-old, rated 103, who tends to take a lead in his races, he's drawn high in (25) and has a decent recent run to his name which is also his only start so far this season.
That latest outing may not have given him the ideal three-week turnaround time I was looking for however, it was still a very fair reappearance run. He finished fifth in the Great Shevington Handicap at Haydock over 7f behind the super likeable Boardman. He wasn't beaten far at all in that run, posting a near career best in the process.
That run came on the back of a wind operation which he received during his winter break and instantly, he reaped the benefits of the procedure. He's able to run off the same mark here of 103 and has a good draw to boot. He's run at Ascot three times in his career where he hasn't fired on any occasion but each can be forgiven.
His debut came at the track where he ran accordingly to market expectation. His second trip to Ascot came in the Group 3 Pavilion Stakes where again, there certainly wasn't any great expectation of him to perform better than he did. His final visit to the course was his last start of 2021 on heavy ground in a Heritage Handicap where he did too much too soon on the wrong part of the track and faded away tamely. Again, that run can be excused with the race very much conspiring against him.
On this second run of the season and second start after a wind operation, Oo De Lally looks too big a price to ignore each-way with six places available instead of four on the Betfair Sportsbook.