Mark Milligan has taken a look at Saturday's racing both at home and in North America and has a trio of selections...
"This looks a sub-standard affair by Grade 1 standards and the form that Walton Street has shown so far this year stamps him as clearly the one to beat"
The racing juggernaut rolls on this Saturday, with high-class racing on both sides of the Atlantic. Ayr and Newbury head up the best of the day's domestic features, while over in North America, there is plenty of European interest at Belmont and Woodbine.
This year's Virgin Bet Ayr Gold Cup (15:40) is a typically competitive renewal in which numerous runners can be given a chance of sorts, though there is the distinct possibility that current favourite Great Ambassador could be a blot on the handicap.
Highly progressive since joining the Ed Walker yard, he was impressive when landing a listed race at York last time, a performance that wouldn't see him out of place in Group company. He looks sure to put up a bold showing back in handicap company under a 5-lb penalty.
It's possible, however, that he could well be the best horse in the race but still not win given how circumstances can unfold in this sort of contest, and his price is tight enough now.
Regular followers of this column will know that this kind of competitive sprint handicap isn't really my bag, but I can't resist having a few quid on Paul Midgley's Ostilio, who could be lurking on a good mark himself and is a much bigger price than the favourite.
He was a seven-furlong listed winner for the Crisfords last year and has steadily found his form for his current yard, catching the eye when a strong-finishing fourth in the Beverley Bullet last time. The step back up to six furlongs, and a guaranteed strong pace, look sure to see this one to good effect, and his trainer has few peers when it comes to laying out sprint handicappers. Look to get involved with this one each-way on enhanced place terms.
Unexposed King Leonidas can make winning return
Over at Newbury, the unexposed King Leonidas is taken to strike on handicap debut in the Dubai Duty Free Handicap (15:25). Clearly this one has had his problems, though it's worth noting he was sent off a strong 9/4 favourite when last seen in the Group 3 Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot 457 days ago.
Not disgraced in sixth there, he presumably had a setback after and that's why we haven't seen him since. However, I think it's highly encouraging that top connections have persevered with this one and it also looks significant that the son of Kingman hasn't yet been gelded. That suggests to me that John and Thady Gosden believe King Leonidas can still make his mark in pattern company, and if that is the case, he needs to be going very close here off a mark of 102, despite having a layoff to overcome.
Walton Street a solid proposition
At the time of writing, there's no betting available for Woodbine's Pattison Canadian International (22:35), though if we can get anything around 13/8 for Walton Street once the prices are up, he will rate a solid selection.
This looks a sub-standard affair by Grade 1 standards and the form that Walton Street has shown so far this year stamps him as clearly the one to beat. Twice a winner at Meydan in the early part of the year, including in Group 2 company, it was his fourth to Mishriff in the Sheema Classic on World Cup night that really catches the eye.
He might well have needed his comeback run when third in Germany last time but even a reproduction of that run would be good enough to take this.
The main threat may well come from Desert Encounter, who took this race in 2019 but has shown signs this year that age may be starting to catch him up a little.
Europeans look strong in supporting races
There's also European interest in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile (23:12), where Duke Of Hazzard will attempt to bring this big prize home for the Cole team. Again, this isn't a strong contest by Grade 1 standards, though he will likely need to improve a little if he's to come out on top.
Over in New York on Saturday evening, it looks as though Europeans will also dominate the Jockey Club Derby Invitational Stakes (22:45), with Bolshoi Ballet and Yibir likely to head the betting.
Bolshoi Ballet has already proven himself well suited by US racing, having taken the Belmont Derby at this track in June. A little disappointing when only fourth at Saratoga last time, it's possible that he was a little inconvenienced by racing closer than ideal to a strong pace. Expect Ryan Moore to ride a more patient race this time.
Charlie Appleby's Yibir proved better than ever when taking the Great Voltigeur at York last time, and that form looks pretty solid with the placed horses going on to run okay in the Leger last week. My worry for Yibir is that he's a big unit and the tight Belmont turf track may not play to his strengths.
Soldier Rising was ahead of Bolshoi Ballet last time and he looks the strongest of the home team. This one started off life in France for Andre Fabre and looks to have taken well to the US judging on his good run last time. It would be something of a surprise were the finish not fought out by this one and the two Europeans.